An annual report ranks Arkansas 41st in the nation in the overall well-being of its children, down from 40th last year, and shows that child poverty has increased in the state, although gains have been made in health-care coverage and education.
The annual Kids Count Data Book, released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore, ranks states based on 16 indicators across four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
Massachusetts tops the list in the 2014 report, followed by Vermont and Iowa. Ranked below Arkansas, in descending order, are Georgia, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi.
Arkansas’ child poverty rate was 29 percent in 2012, up from 25 percent in 2005, according to the report. The national child poverty rate was 23 percent in 2012, which also was up by four percentage points from the 2005 rate of 19 percent.
"Other states are experiencing similar increases in child poverty, likely due to the depth and severity of the recession," the nonprofit group Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families stated in a news release.
Six percent of Arkansas children lacked health insurance in 2012, down from 9 percent in 2008, according to the report.
Arkansas also saw improvement on test scores. Sixty-eight percent of fourth-graders scored below proficient in reading in 2013, down from 70 percent in 2005, and 72 percent of eighth-graders scored below proficient in English in 2013, down from 78 percent in 2005.
Arkansas’ rate of child and teen deaths was 34 per 100,000 in 2010, down from 47 per 100,000 in 2005, researchers found.
"On several fronts, we’ve seen the difference that smart policies, effective programs and high-quality practice can make in improving child well-being and long-term outcomes," said Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. "We should all be encouraged by the improvements in many well-being indicators in the health, education, and safety areas, but we must do much more."
Huddleston said his group supports continued investments in children’s health care and increased funding for pre-kindergarten education.
National findings in the report include:
—A smaller percentage of children live in families in which no parent has a high school diploma, down from 22 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2012.
—The teen birth rate for 2012 was a historic low of 29 per 1,000. Arkansas’ teen birth rate for 2012 was 46 per 1,000.
—By 2018, children of color will represent a majority of children.