Making Kids Count

Amanda Tipton Photography

How does your state measure up in addressing children’s economic well being, healthcare, and education?

The news was mixed for family and community. The criteria in that category were teen births, single-parent homes, children living in homes where the head of the household lacks a high school diploma, and children living in high poverty areas. The explosion in single-parent homes continues apace, and as we know those homes are the strongest predictor of both childhood and adult poverty. Perhaps not coincidentally, the number of children living in high poverty areas continues to increase, up from 9% in 2000 to 13% today.

On the other hand, the percentage of children living in homes where the head of the household lacks a high school diploma has fallen to 15% from its 1990 high of 22%, which along with the good news in the education category suggests we may finally be doing something right in that area. Another area of improvement was teen births, which have fallen by half since 1990 and continue to tumble annually. For Catholics, this may be a mixed blessing since the decline could be linked to wider availability of contraceptives and abortion services.

The Kids Count Data Book challenges us to look at the economic, physical, educational and family health of our children and craft public policies that will improve outcomes, not just for kids in certain geographic or income categories, but for all kids.

Here’s one way of looking at these numbers with a view toward public policy. At either end of the overall rankings are Massachusetts and Mississippi. Massachusetts ranks first in education, second in child health, eighth in family and community, and 13th in economic well being. By contrast, Mississippi ranks last in economic well being and family, and 48th in education and healthcare.

To be sure, these are states with different histories, demographic profiles, and geographic locations. But they also differ dramatically in their attitude toward funding the commonweal. According to Bloomberg News, Massachusetts has the fourth highest tax burden in the nation, while Mississippi has the lowest. Everyone loves low taxes – in fact, Bay State citizens often deride their own commonwealth as “Taxachusetts” – but the investments Massachusetts has made in education and healthcare have paid off in the form of child well being and lifelong success.

Meanwhile, Mississippi languishes, which may be proof of the old adage, “you get what you pay for.”

Mark Gordon is a partner at PathTree, a consulting firm focused on organizational resilience and strategy. He also serves as president of both the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Diocese of Providence, and a local homeless shelter and soup kitchen. Mark is the author of Forty Days, Forty Graces: Essays By a Grateful Pilgrim. He and his wife Camila have been married for 30 years and they have two adult children.

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