Each year, the KIDS COUNT Data Book presents an update on how the nation’s kids are faring, state-by-state, in a cross-section of topics. For the past few years in Nebraska, we’ve grown used to a national ranking of 9th overall – and this year we keep that position. Great news, right?
Not so fast. In looking more closely at the data, I’d propose revising our state’s motto from “The Good Life” to “The Better Life.” It’s true that, relatively speaking, Nebraska scores better than most other states. Yet it’s also true that in more than half of the Data Book’s measures, our state has lost ground in recent years. That’s not so good.
Let’s break it down. This year’s report divided child well-being into four domains: Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family and Community. Each domain then received another national rank, derived from its four key indicators. That 9th-place overall ranking comes from these four sub-rankings:
- Economic Well-Being: 2nd
- Education: 15th
- Health: 12th
- Family and Community: 15th
Intriguingly, the domain in which Nebraska scored best when compared with the rest of the nation actually scored worse in three out of four indicators across years. Child poverty rates rose 20% from 2005 to 2010. More kids had parents without secure employment, and more kids lived in houses with a high cost burden. The fourth indicator, about idle teens, didn’t budge.
You might say that, even at No. 2 in the nation economically-speaking, we’re simply less worse off than other states.
In the domain of Family and Community, we again scored worse on three indicators and held steady in the fourth. Across years, Nebraska experienced more kids living in single-parent families, more kids living in high-poverty areas, and slightly more teens giving birth. No change occurred in the number of kids in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma.
Education was split. Nebraska improved in the number of children not attending preschool and in grade 4 reading proficiency. We did worse in grade 8 math scores and in percentages of students graduating on time.
The Health section, saved for last so as not to end on such a negative note, highlighted improvements in three of four indicators. The percentage of low birth weight babies grew just a bit – a bad thing – but more kids had health insurance, the child death rate dropped, and fewer teens reported abusing alcohol and drugs.
The improvements noted across domains certainly are worth celebrating. Yet our state’s worsening in nine out of 16 indicators reminds us that, even with a high national ranking, there is no room for complacency when it comes to doing right by Nebraska kids.
We’ll take a closer look at the new Data Book in the days ahead. Until then, you can find the entire KIDS COUNT Data Book at The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s site, or view Nebraska’s data in more detail at datacenter.kidscount.org.