When it comes to the well-being of American children, Georgia has ranked among the 10 worst in the nation for years — until now.
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For the first time since 2012, the state broke out from the bottom of the pack in the 2018 Kids Count Data Book, an annual analysis from nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation, a group dedicated to developing a brighter future for millions of children nationwide.
In the 2018 report, the foundation noted that about 4.5 million children under age 5 live in areas where there is a high risk of missing children, an undercount of about 1 million children in the 2020 U.S. Census.
Such an undercount could “short-change child well-being” in the next decade and put at risk hundreds of millions of federal funds for programs aimed at family stability and opportunity, researchers wrote.
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"If we don't count children, we render their needs invisible and their futures uncertain," AECF president and CEO Patrick McCarthy said. "A major census undercount will result in overcrowded classrooms, shuttered Head Start programs, understaffed hospital emergency rooms and more kids without health care."
To determine national and state trends in child well-being, researchers compared regions across 16 key indicators related to education, employment and income, health, poverty and other youth risk factors.
Data for the national report are derived from 2016 and 2017 federal statistical agencies and include yearly changes to track trends over time.
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While a stronger economy has resulted in 1.6 million fewer children living in poverty than five years ago, “troubling disparities persist among children of color and those from low-income and immigrant families.”
Of the 50 states, New Hampshire emerged the victor in child well-being with the lowest rate of child poverty in the country (8 percent). The state also ranked among the top five for three indicators: economic well-being, education, health and family/community.
Massachusetts, New Jersey, Minnesota and Iowa rounded out the top five. Alaska, Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico ranked among the bottom.
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Georgia ranked 39th in the nation, its first time ranking better than 40th since 2012.
Here’s more on how Georgia fared:
- Overall rank: 39
- Economic well-being: 37
- Education: 34
- Health: 39
- Family and community: 40
“Though Georgia’s children and families still face challenges, there are some promising trends for the state,” the foundation announced in a news releasing, noting that the ranking can’t be directly compared to previous years’ because methodology has changed over time.
“Georgia has made some key investments in areas such as early care and learning, child welfare, and K – 12 education over the last several years, and it’s already paying off for our families, communities, and economy,” Gaye Smith, executive director of Georgia Family Connection Partnership, said in the news release. “If we stay the course with these types of strategic investments, all Georgians will benefit from the resulting progress and positive community outcomes.”
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Where Georgia improved, according to AECF
- Children in poverty: 23 percent (2010: 25 percent)
- Children with parents lacking secure employment: 29 percent (2010: 34 percent)
- Children living in household with high housing cost burden: 32 percent (2010: 41 percent)
- Teens not in school and not working: 8 percent (2010: 12 percent)
- Fourth graders not proficient in reading: 65 percent (2009: 71 percent)
- Eighth graders not proficient in math: 69 percent (2009: 73 percent)
- High school students not graduating on time: 21 percent (2010-11: 33 percent)
- Children without health insurance: 6 percent (2010: 10 percent)
- Kids in families where household head lacks high school diploma: 13 percent (2010: 15 percent)
- Teen births per 1,000: 24 percent: (2010: 41 percent)
Still, more than 29 percent of rural children live in poverty in the state — and the state’s low birthweight rate rose to 9.8 percent, its highest rate in the report’s 29-year history.
Other reports have also called out the state's threatening environments for child well-being. Save the Children's second annual End of Childhood Report released in May ranked Georgia 44th in the nation on measures of child poverty, with 1 in 3 rural children in the state growing up in poverty.
Another ranking from WalletHub ranked the state the ninth worst to raise a family, thanks to low scores in education, child care, health and safety.
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Where Georgia worsened, according to AECF
- Young children 3-4 years old not in school: 51 percent (2009-11: 50 percent)
- Low birth-weight babies: 9.8 percent (2010: 9.7 percent)
- Children in single-parent families: 39 percent (2010: 38 percent)
- Children living in high-poverty areas: 16 percent (2008-12: 14 percent)
“We must be proactive in our efforts to provide adequate healthcare, transportation, education, and employment to end the cycle of generational poverty,” Georgia Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Chris Clark said. “As we seek to invest in our next generation, it is critical that we create solutions that advance sustainable economic mobility for Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution