LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas ranks 45th in the nation in overall child well-being, down from 44th a year ago, according to the annual Kids Count Data Book issued by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The recently released report uses 16 indicators to rank each state in four main categories: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Data is drawn reports by the U.S. Census Bureau and other government agencies.
This year’s report ranks Arkansas 47th in the economic well-being of children. It notes that 27 percent of children in the state live in poverty, up from 26 percent the previous year. Nationally, 21 percent of children live in poverty.
Arkansas also has higher-than-average percentages of children whose parents lack secure employment — 34 percent in the state compared to 29 percent nationally — and of teens not in school and not working — 9 percent in the state compared to 7 percent nationally.
The state’s portion of children living in households with high housing costs, 29 percent, is below the national level of 33 percent.
In the education category, the report ranks Arkansas 35th in the nation, making it the only category where the state is not among the bottom 10 percent.
Sixty-eight percent of the state’s fourth graders are not proficient in reading, compared to 65 percent nationally, and 78 percent of the state’s eighth graders are not proficient in Math, compared to 68 percent nationally.
Arkansas is doing better than the national average in percentages of 3- and 4-year-olds not in preschool — 52 percent in the state compared to 53 percent nationally — and of high school students not graduating on time — 15 percent in the state compared to 17 percent nationally.
In the health category, the report ranks Arkansas 46th in the nation. The state’s rate of child and teen deaths, 34 per 100,000, is well above the national level of 25 per 100,000.
Five percent of Arkansas children are without health insurance, the same as the national percentage.
Arkansas has slightly higher-than-average percentages of low-birth-weight babies — 9.2 percent in the state compared to 8.1 percent nationally — and of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs — 6 percent in the state compared to 5 percent nationally.
In the family and community category, the report ranks Arkansas 44th in the nation. The state’s rate of teen births, 38 per 1,000, is well above the national rate of 22 per 1,000.
Arkansas also has higher-than-average percentages of children in single-parent families — 36 percent in the state compared to 14 percent nationally — and of children living in high-poverty areas — 16 percent in the state compared to 14 percent nationally.
Fourteen percent of Arkansas children live in families where the head of the household lacks a high school diploma, the same as the national percentage.
“Despite these discouraging rankings, there are a few bright spots in this year’s data,” Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families said in a news release. “For instance, 95 percent of Arkansas children have health insurance. This is an all-time high and shows continuous improvement over the past five years.”
Arkansas also has reduced its percentage of young children not in preschool, the group noted. It said the ARKids First program, established in 1997 by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee, marked a turning point for Arkansas children, and that a federal funding increase for preschool programs, announced at the end of 2014, has allowed Arkansas to expand access to more children.
Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates, said adoption of a state-level earned income tax credit similar to the federal EITC would help the state improve the economic well-being of its children.
“Considering the state’s high child poverty rate and other dismal economic well-being indicators, it’s time to pull the trigger on a state EITC,” he said.
Proposals to create a state EITC during the past two legislative sessions failed to win legislative approval.
The 2017 Kids Count report ranks New Hampshire first in the nation for overall child well-being. Massachusetts and Vermont are second and third, respectively.
Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi are the three lowest-ranked states, in descending order.