The annual Kids Count report released Wednesday offers mixed news about life for Arkansas’s very youngest residents.
The state’s overall child well-being index, which is based on a number of education, health and economic factors, improved from 43rd among the 50 states in 2016 to 41st last year.
The number of Arkansas kids living in poverty has declined by 28,000 since 2010, according to the report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Today, 24 percent of Arkansas kids live in poverty; in the nation it's 19 percent.
While there’s been improvement in the poverty rates, Rich Huddleston, director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, says the report still needs to be considered a wake-up call about the urgency of reducing poverty rates.
“The news is even worse for children of color,” he said.
According to the report, 40 percent of Arkansas’s African-American children live in poverty; for Hispanic children it's 34 percent. Just 17 percent of the state’s white children live in poverty.
But the report also identified positive developments, such as Arkansas hitting its all-time record of 30th among all states for overall health, thanks in large part to a high percentage of Arkansas kids covered by health insurance.
Much of the credit goes to Arkansas’s landmark ARKids First program, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.
“We had between one-in-four and one-in-five kids who were uninsured several decades ago, and now because of state policy changes and federal policy changes, we only have four percent of kids who are uninsured,” Huddleston said.
He said education has also improved over the years — Arkansas now ranks 33, according to the report.
But the state continues to rank poorly in some education sub-categories: 69 percent of fourth graders are not reading at grade level, and 75 percent of eighth graders are below proficiency in math. The report indicated that those categories have made little or no progress in nearly a decade.
According to the Kids Count report, the best states currently for overall child well-being are New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Minnesota and Iowa, while the bottom five are Alaska, Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico.
This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.