Georgia Ranks 42nd in the Country on a Survey of Childhood Outcomes

August 11, 2015

Over at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein notes that the states with the fastest growing populations of under 20 year olds are the ones are the ones that tend to leave their children in worse shape, compared to the states where they youth population is not growing as quickly. Georgia’s population of under 18 year olds increased by 7.98% between 2000 and 2014, making it one of the states with a rapidly growing child population.

That means the United States is increasingly relying on the states that are most struggling—and often making the least effort—to equip their kids to succeed and ultimately build the country’s future workforce and consumers. “The fact that we have so many kids living in parts of the country where the outcomes aren’t as good … is something we are going to pay for later,” says the demographer Bill Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program who recently analyzed the youth-population trends for all 50 states.

These conclusions are based on a comparison of Frey’s analysis with the latest Kids Count data book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation (which is among the sponsors for the series that produced this piece). The foundation ranks the condition of children in the states across 16 quantitative indicators in education, health, family, and the economy. From these individual assessments, it synthesizes a cumulative rank of well-being for children in each state.

You can look at the rankings here.(Children in poverty (100 percent poverty) (Percent) – 2013 National KIDS COUNT
KIDS COUNT Data Center,
A project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation)

In addition to an overall ranking (Georgia is 42nd), scores are also calculated for economic well being (44th), education (40th), health (38th), and family & community (39th). Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa have the top three rankings overall, while Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi trail at the bottom.

In his article, Brownstein cites two criteria that separate the states at the top from those at the bottom: poverty and diversity.

In 2013, 26.7% of the Peach State’s children under age 20 lived below the federal poverty level. That’s compared to 17.1% in 2000, 20.3% in 2006, and 22.7% in during the height of the recession in 2009. Georgia is tied with four other states, including Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee for the 42nd worse child poverty rate in the country. Rounding out the bottom four are Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Mississippi. The national average is 22% in poverty. Of the states with the best child outcomes, Massachusetts and Iowa have poverty rates of 16%, while Vermont is at 17% The map below shows the poverty level in Georgia, broken down by congressional district.

Children in poverty (100 percent poverty) (Percent) – 2013

KIDS COUNT Data Center,
A project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Georgia, of course, has become more diverse as well. In 2000, the state’s population was 2% Asian, 34% African-American, 6% Hispanic, and 56% white. In 2014, it was 4% Asian, 33% African-American, 14% Hispanic, and 45% white. By way of comparison, for the three states ranked with the best outcomes, Massachusetts is 65% white, Vermont is 90% white, and Iowa is 79% white. Nationwide, 52% of Americans are white. 7% of the children in Georgia’s 6th congressional district and 6% of children in the 4th district weren’t born in the United States. Yet the state’s 3% foreign born population is the same as the national average.

One conclusion that could be drawn is that getting minority children into the middle class is an ongoing challenge, especially given the trend towards an increasingly diverse population.

Frey’s data shows that the absolute number of white kids under 20 has declined in 46 of the 50 states since 2000. Against that backdrop, a failure to elevate the children of color, who will comprise a growing share of the workforce almost everywhere, will hurt not only the states in which they live, but also the nation’s competitive edge.

Largely for that reason, Rolf Pendall, the director of community policy at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, says the U.S. can no longer accept the historic tendency in which Washington primarily held the funding responsibility for programs affecting senior citizens while the states were charged with overseeing children’s programs. “Increasingly it’s a limited number of states, and a limited number of metro areas, that are the nurseries of the future workforce,” Pendall says. “That means it’s in the national interest to provide for maximizing the life chances of kids [in those] places. That’s … not charity. It’s investment.”

In Georgia, the number of white children under age 18 declined by 72,577, from 1.20 million to 1.13 million between 2004 and 2014. The number of children of other races increased by 257,000 during the same time period, from 1.10 million to 1.36 million.

Does providing better outcomes for children depend on expanding the federal role in administering programs designed to improve their odds of success, or would that simply be an extension of the 50 year old war on poverty that never seems to end?

Georgia spends almost 24% of its budget on K-12 education including federal dollars, and another 31% on healthcare programs, although not all of that goes to benefit children. Do adjustments need to be made in how the state obtains revenue and divides up spending in order to increase the chances of each child’s success? Those are decisions that will have to be made.

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