Oklahoma children continue to lag behind most states when it comes to major health and well-being indicators, according to the 2020 edition of the KIDS COUNT® Data Book published annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Oklahoma ranks 45th overall for child well-being, just ahead of Nevada, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico. Oklahoma’s individual rankings on major categories and change from last year are:
- 33rd in economic well-being, an improvement from 35th in 2019,
- 40th in family and community context, same as the previous report,
- 48th in education, down three spots from the 2019 report, and
- 49th in health, which cannot be accurately compared to the previous year due to changes in one of the indicator categories.
The 2020 KIDS COUNT Data Book — the most comprehensive annual report on child well-being in the United States — is based on the latest available data for 16 key indicators that include health, education, economic well-being, and family and community. For the 2020 report, those data are from 2018, so they do not reflect current conditions amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
The report noted that more than 200,000 Oklahoma children, or more than 1 in 5, lived in poverty. Its findings showed Oklahoma experienced some improvement in the child poverty rate with a 12 percent decrease between 2010 and 2018; however, 35 other states made more progress during the same period, which kept Oklahoma remaining among the nation’s bottom 10 states for children living in poverty. This is indicative of how the state fared in most other indicator categories. In places where Oklahoma made progress, other states made more progress.
The only category where indicators showed that Oklahoma performed better than most states was the number of households that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, for which Oklahoma ranked 16th. For every other indicator, Oklahoma ranked between 26th and 46th.
“In digging into the numbers, we can see that Oklahoma is making some progress, but we lag other states who have made — or are making — meaningful investments in health and education. As a result, we see far too many of our children who are living in poverty, unhealthy, and lack the educational opportunities as children in other parts of the country,” said Rebecca Fine, OK Policy’s Education Policy Analyst and KIDS COUNT Coordinator.
The issues are especially evident in the health category, where Oklahoma trailed only Mississippi in the rankings. More than 80,000 Oklahoma children — just less than 1 in 10 — do not have health insurance, keeping many from access to routine and preventative health care. The report also noted that more than 1 in 3 Oklahoma children between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight or obese. The state’s overall health score couldn’t be compared accurately to the previous year due to an addition of child obesity as a new indicator.
Oklahoma also performed worse in the overall education category despite the state’s education indicators remaining relatively constant in recent years. In places where the state made gains, other states showed greater gains. For instance, Oklahoma improved by 3 percentage points in math proficiency among 8th graders during the past decade, while Mississippi improved by 11 percentage points during the same period.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute, which has been the state’s host agency for the KIDS COUNT project since 2018, previously has outlined several policy recommendations that can help address Oklahoma’s rankings:
- Increasing access to health care and other programs that keep children healthy. Oklahoma is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid. Full expansion, such as what’s included in State Question 802 on the June 30 ballot, would reduce the state’s child uninsured rate as parents with coverage are much more likely to get their children covered. It also would help protect children by ensuring more parents have increased access to treatment for chronic diseases and mental illness. Providing paid family and medical leave for Oklahoma workers also would ensure that caregivers can take the time they need to care for themselves or a loved one.
- Providing tools proven to help families lift themselves up economically. Federal and state earned income tax credits (EITC) and child tax credit programs mean working parents can use more of their take-home pay to meet their children’s needs. Lawmakers effectively ended the state EITC for most of Oklahoma’s lowest income working families by making it non-refundable in 2016. Restoring Oklahoma’s EITC refundability would put money back in the pockets of Oklahoma’s working poor.
- Addressing ethnic and racial inequities. The national averages of child well-being can mask the reality that black and brown children still face a greater number of obstacles. This is true in Oklahoma, where children of color experience significantly higher poverty rates and are much more likely to have incarcerated parents.
- Count all children. Ensure the 2020 Census counts all children, which is essential for deciding the distribution of billions of dollars in federal grants. Oklahoma contains many of the hardest to count census tracts in the nation — and young children under 5 are undercounted at a higher rate than any other age group.
The Casey Foundation plans to explore the effects of the pandemic on child well-being in a future report.
The 2020 KIDS COUNT® Data Book may be accessed at aecf.org. Additional information is available at aecf.org/databook. Tools to create maps and graphs illustrating the data may be found at the KIDS COUNT Data Center (datacenter.kidscount.org).