We love being at the top of any good or great list. We love the attention and the recognition. We love being on the top, or even close. We love the love.
But who likes being last?
The Kids Count Data Book identified Louisiana as one of the worst states in the nation for children’s well-being — and it doesn’t feel good.
According to the annual report released recently, we’re near the bottom in several key categories, including a 5% dip in the number of children living in poverty. Our state has never ranked higher than 46th in the 31 years the data has been examined. This year, for overall child well-being, Louisiana is 48th out of the 50 states. We can thank New Mexico and Mississippi we’re not at the bottom.
Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the report looks at children from birth through young adulthood, tracking state and national progress in 16 categories split into four sections: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
Poverty is one key indicator, and things don’t look good for us. The Casey-funded report has Louisiana ranks 49th based on children living in poverty. “And in Louisiana, 27% of children were growing up in poverty, that’s compared to 17% nationally and this is pre-pandemic, so we suspect the situation is worse now,” said Casey Foundation President Lisa Hamilton.
We know what to do. We can start by looking at the states with the best rankings.
Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Minnesota topped the state results at the first-, second- and third-ranked states. It’s no secret why they’re doing so much better than us. These states invest more in their children, and they’ve done so for many years.
We should look at the higher-ranked states for concepts that are working. For instance, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu attributed his state's success to several factors, including education choice, full-day kindergarten, “focused resources on new child welfare services” and more funding for staff to ensure that children have quality health care access. Imagine that: A governor and state legislature being deliberate about how to help children start their lives with strong support and safety nets.
Louisiana child advocates like Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, and Charmaine Caccioppi, executive vice-president for United Way of Southeast Louisiana, are disappointed with our poor ranking. They’re nevertheless excited to see some recent legislative action to address this matter. They point to sports betting and mandatory kindergarten. With sports betting for most of our parishes, 25% of what’s raised, up to $20 million, would go to the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund. They point to the new mandatory kindergarten law, effective with the 2022-23 school year, which will give our kids a good educational foundation.
Then there’s the federal child tax credit. Scheduled to go into effect next month, it is expected to cut the United States child poverty rate in half. There are about 289,000 children living in Louisiana households with incomes below the poverty line.
Still, our children’s lives continue with limited benefits and support. Our advocates, businesses, educational institutions, health care leaders and philanthropies must be a part of finding solutions. Legislators don’t need to wait for a special session to get to work on how to make significant changes to improve our Kids Count rankings in the coming years. They don’t need to wait to improve these young lives. The work can start now.