The Annie E. Casey Foundation released their annual KIDS COUNT Data Book this week. Oklahoma’s profile shows childhood poverty has worsened in recent years. This is worrying because of the potential negative impacts on education, behavior and health. The report details child well-being across the United States by measuring and ranking states in four specific areas: Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family and Community. The numbers serve as important markers because in measuring the well-being of Oklahoma children, they provide feedback to agencies that implement programs designed to address health, education and poverty.
KIDS COUNT estimates 216,000 Oklahoma children, or 23% of our state’s child population, were living in poverty as of 2011. Around 35,136 of Oklahoma kids in poverty are located right here in Tulsa County, according to a 2010 estimate by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, which directs Oklahoma KIDS COUNT. Oklahoma’s 2013 rate is a slight improvement over last year’s data, but childhood poverty is now relatively the same as it was in 2005. And while Oklahoma’s overall Child Well-being rank rose to 36th overall, up from 40th last year, both the number of children living in poverty coupled with the lack of significant progress in decreasing this rate is troubling.
The Academic Pediatric Association (APA) task force on childhood poverty recently called it “the most important problem facing children in the United States today.” According to the APA, childhood poverty has been linked to higher rates of infant mortality; chronic diseases such as asthma; food insecurity; developmental problems; and an increased exposure to toxic stress. Children in low-income families have lower immunization rates; poorer nutrition and oral health care; and lower graduation rates and educational outcomes as well. Evidence has also shown childhood poverty and exposure to toxic stress is linked to chronic stress related diseases, even into adulthood. (See: 2011 Pediatrics article by Jack P. Shonkoff, and other, for more details on the lifelong effects of toxic stress.)
Below are some quick highlights on how Oklahoma fared in the four main categories:
- Economic Well-Being:
In 2011, there were around 282,000 Oklahoma children whose parents lacked secure employment, representing a rise from 29% to 30% since 2008. There are also around 282,000 children living in households with a high housing cost burden, a rise from 29% to 30% since 2005.
Oklahoma did improve their education score compared to previous years. One positive sign related to early childhood education is the news that more children are attending preschool. From 2005 to 2007, the 62% of Oklahoma children were not attending preschool. Between 2009 and 2011, this had fallen to 59%. However, recent gains in fourth grade reading levels, eighth grade math proficiency, as well as the increase in high school seniors graduating on time may be jeopardized if measures are not taken to address issues related to childhood poverty.
Again this year, health was a mixed bag for Oklahoma. In 2010 there were 4,458 low-birthweight babies born in the Sooner state, indicating a move in the wrong direction, as the state’s percent of low birth-weight babies increased from 8.0% to 8.4%. The rate of uninsured children was more encouraging, as Oklahoma improved from 13% uninsured in 2008 to 11%, or 99,000, uninsured in 2011.
- Family & Community:
Oklahoma also had mixed results in this category. More kids are living in households headed by someone with a high school diploma. However, the rate of single-parent families rose from 32% in 2005 to 36% in 2011, meaning 16,000 Oklahoma kids are in single-parent households. Most troubling, as alluded to earlier, is that the percent of Oklahoma children living in high poverty areas has more than doubled since 2000 — from 5% to 12%. These figures show around 109,000 children living in neighborhoods where they are more likely be exposed to high rates of crime and violence.
Other sources of information on the KIDS COUNT Data Book include:
- The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy’s “Data at a Glance – 2013,” which provides a quick resourcefor Oklahoma’s KIDS COUNT data.
- News on 6 coverage of Oklahoma’s KIDS COUNT rank can be found by clicking here.
- For the Tulsa World’s coverage of the recent data, click here.
- For my analysis of last year’s KIDS COUNT data, click here.