CHARLESTON, WV — West Virginia has seen positive gains in education for its children as more high school seniors graduate on time and students make slight advances in math and reading proficiency, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The improvements reveal the benefits of investing in programs and resources that work to provide children with the supports they need to progress and thrive. However, with a potential undercount of about a quarter of West Virginia’s youngest children in the upcoming 2020 census, the same resources that have been able to help children make some progress in West Virginia may be in jeopardy of losing federal funding.
The annual 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. This year’s report reveals some important truths about the state of child well-being, some more positive than others. Among the good news is that West Virginia has one of the lowest rates (2 percent) of uninsured children in the country, ranking second in that indicator, along with five other states. Since having insurance provides the foundation for accessing health care and improving health outcomes, this represents an important health policy victory.
Unfortunately, providing children with insurance alone is not enough to improve health outcomes in the state. It’s up to policy makers and advocates to ensure that barriers to receiving care are reduced. Health outcomes are strongly connected to other childhood indicators, such as education and economic stability.
West Virginia ranks 39th in education. While the state has seen improvements in both reading and math proficiency for students, it is still well below the national averages. Nearly 70 percent of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading and 76 percent of eighth-graders in the state are not proficient in math. The national averages for proficiency are 65 and 67 percent, respectively, for reading and math. Considering the well-known link between education and future well-being, this represents an important area for improvement in West Virginia.
Similarly, children who grow up in financially stable environments have better outcomes in the long run. With almost a quarter of West Virginia’s children living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, decision-makers need to support programs that connect parents to economic opportunities. Despite slight improvements in each of the economic indicators, West Virginia ranks 47th in overall economic well-being for children, dropping five spots from its ranking of 42 in the 2017 Data Book.
Decade of Damage Possible from Inaccurate Census
Even as West Virginia is seeing some improvements, the prospect of an undercount of nearly 25 percent of the state’s young children is concerning. Nationally, the 2010 survey had the worst undercount since 1950, with nearly five percent of children under five — about 1 million kids — not counted.
Approximately 24 percent of West Virginia’s young children (or 25,000 children under 5) live in hard-to-count areas in the state, putting them at risk of being undercounted in the 2020 census. These are children living in rural areas, multi-dwelling homes and other areas throughout the state. In addition, children of color, those living in immigrant families and low-income children are disproportionately undercounted. If missed in the national count, these children stand to suffer the most if vital programs face reductions in funding.
An undercount of young children in the upcoming decennial census would shortchange child well-being over the next decade by putting at risk hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding for programs that are critical to family stability and opportunity. Roughly 300 federal programs use census-derived data to allocate more than $800 billion a year.
“If we don’t count children, we render their needs invisible and their futures uncertain,” said Casey Foundation President and CEO Patrick McCarthy. “A major census undercount will result in overcrowded classrooms, shuttered Head Start programs, understaffed hospital emergency rooms and more kids without health care.”
The 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book will be available June 27 at 12:01 a.m. EDT atwww.aecf.org. Additional information is available at www.aecf.org/databook, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. Journalists interested in creating maps, graphs and rankings in stories about the Data Book can use the KIDS COUNT Data Center atdatacenter.kidscount.org.
About WV KIDS COUNT
WV KIDS COUNT is the leading resource for data on child and family well-being in the state. We are a member of the national KIDS COUNT Network, and receive funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, as well as state-level foundations, government grants, corporations and individuals. WV KIDS COUNT is a private, nonprofit, non-partisan organization celebrating our 30th year anniversary in 2019.The 2016 WV county level data for child well-being is available on the WV KIDS COUNT website at: https://wvkidscount.org/profiles/
About the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.