Whitesburg KY

State failing kids

If the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team placed 34th out of 50 in the final poll of the season, Kentuckians would be appalled — especially if the team was consistently awful for the next seven years. So we should be equally flabbergasted that the 30th annual Kids Count Data Book ranked the Bluegrass State in the bottom tier for children’s overall well-being — where, despite progress, it has remained for half of a decade.

The report, released Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Kentucky Youth Advocates, contains the latest data (2017) and focuses on 16 indicators in four major domains — family and community, health, economic security and education.

Kentucky — where 1 in 4 residents are children — ranked highest (25th) in health, thanks mostly to a 3% decrease in the number of children without health insurance, which fell from 7% in 2010 to 4%. That’s one full percentage point ahead of the national average. That wasn’t the case in Franklin County, however, as the data flip-flopped — from 5% in 2010 to 7% in 2017.

Overall, the state ranked 27th in education, in part due to fourth and eighth graders performing better on proficiency testing. However, there was a 2 percent increase in the number of 3- and 4-year-olds not attending school — meaning we need to make early childhood education more readily available to a larger majority of that age population. Locally, Franklin County has seen a nearly seven percent increase in the number of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in school (37%), but that number still falls short of the state average (41%).

Kentucky lagged behind most other states in several areas in the economic well-being and family and community categories. About 1 in 5 children in the state lives in poverty. While it is an improvement of 4% over 2010, it is still four percentage points above the national average. In Franklin County, the percentage of children living in poverty rose from 11% to 14%.

The same is true for the percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment. Despite a 6% decrease, nearly one in three kids falls into this category — four percentage points higher than the U.S. rate.

There was also good news to celebrate. The percentage of children living in households with a high housing cost burden knocked off nine percentage points to dip under the national rate with a 23%. Locally, the percentage fell from 53% to 41% over the seven-year span.

The teen birth rate also fell 15 points from 46% in 2010 to 29% and according to the latest figures, it also decreased in the county from 40% to 33%.

The state has made strides in many areas, but there is much work to be done to secure better futures for our most important natural asset — the next generation.

— The State Journal, Frankfort

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