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The well-being of U.S. children continues to improve by most measures, according to the 2020 Kids Count Data Book published June 22 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF).

Yet, “the nation’s racial inequities remain deep, systemic and stubbornly persistent,” the report said.

The annual report uses 16 negative indicators in four areas – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community – to assess children’s well-being.

Specific indicators include children in poverty, high school students not graduating on time, children without health insurance and children living in high-poverty areas.

The 2020 report analyzes data from 2017-19, comparing it with data points from 2009-12 to observe changes and trends.

By most assessment measures, there was overall improvement, with 11 of 16 indicators rated better and three the same.

Only two – low birth-weight babies and children in single-parent families – had worsened.

Yet, this is the sixth year in a row that low birth-weight percentages have not improved.

And racial inequities are pronounced in this indicator, with low birth weight among African American babies being twice as high as that of white babies.

Such racial inequities could be seen across almost all of the report’s well-being indicators.

While white children were below the national average in all 16 negative indicators, Black children were below the average in only three and Latino children in only two.

Similarly, American Indian children were below the national average in only five areas.

Not only are traditional minority groups above the national average in many of the negative well-being indicators, they are often well above.

For example, 32% of African American children and 31% of American Indian children live in poverty, compared to a national average of 18% and 11% of white children.

Similarly, 82% of African American fourth-graders are not proficient in reading and 87% of eighth-graders are not proficient in math, compared to a national average of 66% and 67%, respectively, and to the rates of white children at 56% and 57%, respectively.

“Data suggest that we as a nation fail to provide African American, American Indian and Latino children with the opportunities and support they need to thrive. … nearly all index measures show that children with the same potential experience disparate outcomes,” the report said. “As a result of persistent generations-long inequities and systemic barriers, children of color face high hurdles to success on many indicators.”

Standing out from this trend is Asian / Pacific Island children who were above the national average in only one area: low birth-weight babies.

Even here, though, the report cautioned that overall data hides the fact that “disaggregated data shows stark differences” between people groups from these regions.

The report also analyzed state-level data, ranking states in overall child well-being based on the 16 indicators, explaining that “national data mask a great deal of state and regional variations in child well-being.”

Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Utah and Vermont were the top five states in overall child well-being, while Nevada, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico were the bottom five states.

All but two states – Alaska and California – with the lowest well-being indicators were in Appalachia, the Southeast and Southwest.

Acknowledging in a foreword the pandemic’s present and future impact on children, the report observed, “These are grave times. But this crisis will end, and when it does, America’s children will look to the adults in their lives and the leaders in their communities for assurances that we will make things better for them.

“The great task for all of us – probably a life’s work for some – will be to forge a more resilient America where kids, families and communities can thrive once again.”

The full report is available here. AECF’s interactive data center is available here.

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