If economic well-being was the sole measure of how kids fare in society, California would be considered the worst state, next to Mississippi.
But the annual “Kids Count Databook” (pdf) from the Annie E. Casey Foundation looks at a four factors and California manages to do alright in one of them, allowing for an overall ranking of 38th.
Based on data from 2013, the latest available, the report ranked the state 14th in Health, 38th in Education and 42nd in Family and Community to go with its 49th place in Economic Well-Being.
California is no stranger to income inequality, but it does have the eighth-largest economy on the planet. How can so many kids be in financially-strapped homes? The answer starts with the cost of that housing.
Forty-eight percent of children in California live in families that have to spend at least 30% of their pretax income on housing. It’s the highest percentage in the nation. North Dakota had the lowest at 19%.
Economic well-being included three other factors. California was a point above the national average, with 23% of kids living in poverty. Thirty-four percent of the children had parents who lacked secure employment, three points above average. And 8% of teens were not in school or employed, same as the average.
California earned its 14th-place ranking in Health by having fewer low birth weight babies (6.8%; the average is 8%), an average number of children without health insurance (7%), a 17% lower than average child and teen death rate, and an average number of teens (6%) who abuse alcohol and drugs.
A large measure of California’s success in moving up in Health from 28th in 2008 was credited to the state’s early embrace of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
California was dragged down to 38th in Education because, although only 34% of U.S. kids in general are proficient readers in the fourth grade or proficient at math in the eighth, California is much worse (27% and 28%, respectively). Forty-six percent of children attend preschool, the national average, and 82% of high schoolers graduate on time, one point better than average.
California finished 42nd in Family and Community largely because 23% of its kids lived where the head of the household did not have a high school degree. That’s worst in the nation, where the average is 14%. Children living in poverty areas (16%) was a couple points above the national average and teen births per 100 (24%) was a couple points below. Thirty-five percent of children lived in single-parent families, same as the rest of the country.
Of the 16 measured categories, California improved in nine, declined in five and remained unchanged in two since 2008. The most pronounced degradation was a big one: Children in Poverty went from 18% to 23%.
Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the foundation, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “There are millions of families that have been left behind entirely by the economic recovery.” The report is “a story about rising inequality in the state.”