Child well-being has improved nationwide since the start of this decade, according to the 2019 Kids Count Databook released recently by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. But it’s especially better in Maine.
The Pine Tree State vaulted sharply on the Kids Count rankings from 16th to 9th in overall well-being for children. This was supported in part by a large jump in economic well-being, going from 25th all the way to 8th over the last year.
Improving economic well-being in Maine is likely a result of higher wages in the state.
“January 1, 2017, [Maine’s] minimum wage went up to $9 from $7.50 … so that helped,” said Helen Hemminger, research associate for Maine Children’s Alliance, which collects state data for the Kids Count report.
The minimum wage is also set to continue increasing by $1 each year through 2020, and later to be matched proportionately to increases in cost of living according to Maine legislation. A minimum wage increase paired with national trends of fewer children in families with high housing costs, as detailed by the Kids Count Databook, is improving financial aspects of children’s lives but these positive changes are not equally spread across the country.
Hemminger cautioned that the state’s economic gains have not reached families and children equally. Youth of color are an extreme minority – Maine’s children population is 88 percent white – and “historical inequities and racism over time still affect children who aren’t white,” she said. “They fare more poorly [than white children].”
The state’s rural families are also not benefitting as much from the growing economy, according to Hemminger. There are “two Maines: the one that’s doing pretty well close to urban areas, and the other 13 counties,” she said.
The Kids Count Databook has been produced annually since 1990 and measures child well-being in every state using 16 different indicators grouped under four subjects:
- Economic Well-Being
- Family and Community
Nationwide, overall well-being is better in 11 of the 16 areas measured in this year’s report, which compares from 2010 and 2017. Only one indicator actually worsened: the percentage of low birth-weight babies ticked up slightly, from 8.1 percent to 8.3 percent.
The report highlights that as in Maine, children of color continue to fare worse than their white counterparts in nearly every one of the 16 Kids Count measures. More than 40 percent of African-American and Latinx children live in households with high-cost burdens compared to 22 percent of white children. African-American and American Indian children are nearly three times more likely to be in poverty than white and Asian and Pacific Islander children.
Some exceptions to this trend are that young African-American children are more likely to be in school and live in families where a parent has a high school diploma or greater academic achievement, American Indian families are less likely to have high-cost housing burdens, and Latinx children are more likely to be born at healthier birth-weights and have lower child and teen death rates.
The 2019 Kids Count Databook reports the bettering of child well-being throughout the nation since 1990, something also noted in the 2018 Kids Count. However, both highlight geographic, racial and ethnic differences in the gains of well-being.
“While we have stepped up for kids in some areas, we have fallen profoundly short in other ways,” the report said. “Notably, we have failed to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among children and dismantle the obstacles that so many children of color encounter on the road to adulthood.”
Maine joins five other Northeastern states in the top 10 in terms of overall child well-being: New Hampshire (first), Massachusetts (second), New Jersey (fifth), Vermont (sixth), and Connecticut (eighth). States outside of that region rounding out the top 10 are Iowa (third), Minnesota (fourth), Utah (seventh) and Virginia (10th).
At the bottom of the overall rankings are the same four states for the fifth year in a row: Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Mexico.
The foundation renewed its concerns from last year’s report about the consequences of a potential Census undercount on child well-being. The 2010 census undercounted youth by at least 1 million.
“If we as a nation don’t make a concerted effort to count every child in 2020, we could miss even more,” this year’s Kids Count report said. “About 4.5 million kids live in places — from dense urban areas to rural expanses to tribal communities — where completing an accurate count is especially challenging.”
“Despite the vital importance of the census, we face another potential undercount of young children in 2020,” said former Annie E. Casey Foundation CEO Patrick McCarthy, in the foreword to the 2018 report. “If the 2020 numbers are wrong, we will live with the consequences for 10 years.”