Children living in Iowa continue to experience a better quality of life than many of those across the country, according to the 2018 Kids Count report, published Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
But state experts say there’s still room for improvement when it comes to the well-being of young Iowans.
“Compared to the United States as a whole, we are doing very well, but comparing Iowa to itself where we were five to 10 years ago, there’s a few indicators we could work to improve,” said Michael Crawford, Iowa Kids Count director and senior associate at the Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines.
For the second year in a row, Iowa ranked fifth nationwide in the Kids Count Data Book. The report tracks child well-being nationwide by analyzing data from federal statistical agencies and ranks states on factors involving their family and community, education, economic well-being and health of American children.
Iowa ranked fourth among all states for economic well-being, a category that measures indicators such as the number of children in poverty — at 15 percent — and the rate of children whose parents lack secure employment — 20 percent.
Nationwide, there was “continued improvement” in this category, but the report found that economic disparity existed at disproportionate rates among children of color compared to their white peers.
To improve the economic well-being of young Iowans, Crawford suggested changes in policy, such as an increase in the minimum wage to at least $10 statewide.
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In addition, Crawford also suggested financial assistance for early education should be given to those who make 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Right now, it is only provided to Iowa families who are at 145 percent of the poverty level, or make up to $36,000 a year.
Early education can be key influences in other Kids Count indicators, including fourth-grade reading proficiency, Crawford said.
The report found that Iowa did do well in the rate of high school students graduating on time, with only about nine percent not completing school on time compared to the national 16 percent average.
This rate is an improvement from the 2010-11 school year, which found 12 percent of Iowa high school students did not graduate on time.
Overall, Iowa ranked seventh in education.
The report also found the state ranked eighth in health, which studied indicators such as the percentage of uninsured children living in Iowa. According to the report, 3 percent of children were uninsured in 2016, a slight improvement from the 4 percent in 2010.
Crawford said a concerning trend indicated in the report’s family and community measurement — which Iowa ranked eighth nationwide — is the 30 percent of children living in single-parent families, compared to 29 percent in 2010.
“It’s not a major increase, but it increased nonetheless since 2010,” Crawford said. “It’s up to 30 percent, so we have three in 10 children living in single-parent families in the state of Iowa.”
While it’s not a trend public policy can affect, he said, it should be taken seriously as single-parent homes are more likely to experience economic hardships.
“It’s more of a mind-set we need to change,” Crawford said.
To read the full report, go to www.aecf.org.
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