By Fawn Pattison
If you get as excited as we do about getting your hands on the latest and best data about kids and families, then you’ve come to the right place. Every year the Annie E. Casey Foundation releases the annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, the most comprehensive annual report on child well-being in the United States. It’s a chance to see how kids in our state are doing, and look at the metrics on other states to see how we measure up. But this is the thirtieth anniversary of the Data Book, which means we also get to look back at how far we’ve come – or not – in the last three decades.
Here are some big take-aways:
The child population in the southeast is booming, and North Carolina is no exception. Our state is now home to 2.3 million children. That’s a growth of nearly 700,000 kids since the first KIDS COUNT Data Book was published in 1990.
Massive racial and ethnic disparities persist. There has been a lot of progress, but there’s one area where North Carolina – again, like many southeastern states – is seriously failing, and that is the severe racial and ethnic disparities that persist in children’s investments and outcomes.
“We truly can equip all kids to succeed in school and beyond,” said Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child. “But to make that vision a reality, we need to tackle the racial and ethnic disparities head on, and dismantle the obstacles that children of color encounter on the road to adulthood.”
Sustained policy investments are working. The Casey Foundation and NC Child point to areas of tremendous improvement in children’s lives — including access to health care, decreased rates of teen childbearing and increased rates of high school graduation — and draw a direct line to policies that support this success.
We must continue to build on these successes, and one critical opportunity to do that right now in North Carolina is by getting health coverage to the half-million or so adults in North Carolina who are priced out of the market, but don’t qualify for Medicaid. The benefits will accrue to children, when their parents and caregivers can get the care they need.
The upcoming 2020 Census presents a huge opportunity for kids and families – with huge risks. The fastest-growing population of young children in North Carolina is Latinx children, who now make up 16 percent of North Carolina’s child population. They are the same population most at risk of being missed in the 2020 Census, according to a recent report by NC Child. We anticipate that the potential addition of a question on citizenship to the 2020 Census would put a chill on Latinx participation – threatening resources and representation for all North Carolina families.
The Data Book shows how essential accurate data are to sound policymaking. The 2010 census missed 25,000 young children in North Carolina, and the upcoming count may miss even more if young children are not a priority. The stakes are high: 55 major federal programs, including Head Start and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, allocate more than $16 billion to North Carolina each year based on census data.
“America’s children are one-quarter of our population and 100 percent of our future,” said Casey Foundation President and CEO Lisa Hamilton. “All of the 74 million kids in our increasingly diverse country have unlimited potential, and we have the data, knowledge and evidence to create the policies that will help them realize it. It’s incumbent on us to do just that.”
Dive into the 2019 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, and the North Carolina state profile here. We’ll be diving in all year, and bringing you crucial updates on the areas of children’s health, education, and well-being that matter most in our state.
Fawn Pattison is NC Child’s Communications Director.
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