With this in mind, I want to pass on some recent numbers from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2016 Kids Count profile for Tennessee. Kids Count is the premier source for data on child and family well-being in the United States. One of the foundation’s stated goals is to enrich local, state and national discussions about methods to secure better futures for every child while raising the visibility of children’s issues “through a nonpartisan, evidence-based lens.”
Interestingly, in many of the areas, which our United Way partners focus, improvements have been made such as education and health. In the more difficult arena of economic well being, we see numbers dipping. For example, children living in poverty stood at 26 percent or 384,000 children during the most recent survey. This number has worsened since the last survey in 2008, which demonstrated that 22 percent of children were living in poverty.
Other areas in the economic category worsening included children whose parents lacked secure employment; this area slid 2 percent worse since the last survey and children living in households with a high-cost burden for housing worsened 1 percent.
The report also includes more favorable numbers in education. Fourth graders’ reading proficiency improved 6 percentage points from 2007. Eighth graders proficiency in math also improved 6 percentage points. High school students not graduating on time improved, as well. In fact, the last time this area was surveyed, the number of students graduating on time had improved from 25 percent not graduating on time to 18 percent.
As for families’ health in Tennessee, low-birth-weight babies dropped by less than 1 percentage point. Children living without health insurance also dropped from 7 percent doing without in 2008 to 5 percent in 2014. The number of child and teen deaths also dropped from 34 of every 100,000 to 29. Teens abusing drugs or alcohol dropped 2 percentage points to stand, at the last time surveyed in 2014, at 5 percent of the 24,000 teens surveyed.
For the family and community, report data is mixed. The number of children in single-parent families increased 2 percentage points during a six-year period while teen births per 1,000 people improved significantly from 52 in 2008 to 33 in 2014.
Of course, these numbers represent statewide figures, and those of Wilson County may be much different. For example, our county education numbers are traditionally good compared to some parts of the state. Our high school graduation rate is just one area listed previously that is near 100 percent.
For a more detailed look at where our county or any county in the nation stands, visit datacenter.kidscount.org.
John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at [email protected].