New KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks Oklahoma near the worst in the nation for child well-being

A new report shows the youngest generation of Oklahomans face far-reaching challenges. The state ranks near the bottom in the nation for most measures of child well-being, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Overall, the report ranks Oklahoma 44th out of all 50 states for child well-being. Even in areas where Oklahoma has seen the most improvement recently, we’re not keeping up with the progress in other states. We have a high percentage of kids scoring below proficient in reading and math, a high rate of teen births, hundreds of thousands of kids living in poverty, and tens of thousands without health insurance. The 2018 Data Book shows that while Oklahoma has improved on some measures of child well-being, we still have a lot of work to do.

The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book uses 16 indicators to rank each state across four domains — health, education, economic well-being, and family and community — as an assessment of child well-being. Oklahoma ranks:

  • 36th in economic well-being. The economic security of Oklahoma kids has improved significantly in recent years as the state and national economy emerged from recession. Compared to 2010, 19 percent fewer children were in families facing burdensome housing costs in 2016. The state also made progress in reducing child poverty and increasing full-time employment among parents. However, the percentage of teens ages 16-19 not attending school and not working (9 percent) has remained stagnant and ranks as one of the highest percentages in the nation.
  •  46th in education. Oklahoma’s ranking for education was lowest among all areas covered in the report. While Oklahoma had seen progress in improving 4th grade reading proficiency, that progress was reversed in 2017 when 71 percent of 4th graders scored below proficient, 44th worst in the nation. Oklahoma students ranked even lower (45th) for 8th grade math proficiency, with 76 percent scoring below proficient.
  • 44th in the family and community domain. Teen birth rates are at an all-time low nationwide and in Oklahoma, where they have dropped 34 percent since 2010. Despite this improvement, Oklahoma’s 2016 rate of 33 births per 1,000 females age 15 to 19 was tied with Mississippi for 2nd highest in the nation. Oklahoma also ranked among the highest for children in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma (141,000 children, or 15 percent of all kids in the state).
  • 40th in health. Oklahoma was a national leader for one measure of child health in the Data Book – the state has the lowest percentage of children ages 12-17 who abused alcohol in the past year (4 percent). Oklahoma also improved in reducing the number of low birthweight babies by 7 percent since 2010 and now ranks 19th in the U.S. on this measure. However, the state continues to struggle with a relatively high child uninsured rate (7 percent, 5th highest in the U.S.) and a high rate of child and teen deaths (35 deaths per 1,000, 7th highest in the U.S.).

For too long, Oklahoma has under-invested in children and put too many barriers in the way of young families who are struggling to get by. The commitments made this year to fund education and teacher pay will make a difference, but we also took some steps in the wrong direction. For example, the push to deny health care to very low-income parents who don’t meet strict work and reporting requirement threatens health care access for both these parents and their children. We must do better to become a state where all children have what they need to thrive.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gene Perry joined OK Policy in January 2011. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism. Gene also serves on the board of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network, is a trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and has chaired the communications advisory committee for the State Priorities Partnership, a nationwide network of state fiscal policy think tanks. He lives in Tulsa with his wife Kara Joy McKee, who is a Tulsa City Councilor.

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