For state legislatures around the country, the latest “Kids Count” report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation offers some important guideposts on funding priorities to ensure fewer children aren’t forced to grow up in poverty with substandard health care and education. The report has lots of good news but also points to some persistent trouble spots.
For Republican-dominated states like Missouri, the report’s findings serve as a stark warning: Despite claims of being “pro-life,” lawmakers fall seriously short when it comes to ensuring a quality existence for all children beyond the womb. Forced-birth laws such as the one passed by Missouri’s Legislature last month and signed by Gov. Mike Parson have been celebrated by abortion-rights opponents as a major victory. But lawmakers continue to shortchange children in terms of their education, health care and financial security.
First some good news from the report: Nationwide, the percentage of children growing up in poverty dropped 4 percentage points between 2010 and 2017. Fewer parents lack secure employment, and fewer teens are listed as neither in school nor working. But today, more than 13 million children — about 18% of all children — still live in poverty, while more than a quarter of all parents lack secure employment.
In Missouri, 19% of kids are growing up in poverty, and 27% of parents lack secure employment. More Missouri children are growing up in single-parent households, but a smaller percentage are in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma. Teen births also show a promising, sharp downward trend. But there’s been a sharp increase in child and teen deaths per 100,000 population.
The educational picture continues on a stubborn trajectory. Nationally and in Missouri, more than half of children ages 3 and 4 are not in school despite research pointing to improved educational outcomes when young children receive prekindergarten instruction. Missouri showed only slight improvement in the number of fourth graders not proficient in reading, dropping from 64% in 2009 to 63% in 2017.
The percentage of Missouri eighth graders not proficient in math has worsened over the past 10 years. Two-thirds now rank as nonproficient. Nevertheless, nationally as well as in Missouri, the percentage of high school students graduating on time is on a dramatic upswing.
Missouri consistently ranks in the middle or among the bottom half of states in performance on overall child well-being, economic security, education and health. It shares those low rankings with Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas and Louisiana — states where the most restrictive abortion laws in the country have recently been passed.
These male-dominated legislatures claim to be fighting for children when they enact laws forcing women to give birth regardless of their emotional or financial preparedness for parenthood. But the latest Kids Count numbers expose the hypocrisy behind those “pro-life” claims.