Recently, The Annie E. Casey Foundation published its 30th KIDS COUNT Data Book. The annual publication tracks and ranks all the states on 16 indicators of child well-being in four different domains – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
Utah has changed dramatically in the 30 years since the data book was first published. In 1990 Utah had 627,000 kids. By 2017 that had grown to 926,000. In 1990, 90% of Utah’s children were non-Hispanic white compared to 76% in 2017. And, while we have improved our percentage of children in poverty (from 12% to 11%), there are more than 22,000 children living in poverty today compared to 1990.
This year’s publication compared trend data from 2010 and ranked Utah seventh overall — first in family and community with trend data showing us improving in three of the four indicators, fourth in economic well-being and 13th in education, with Utah improving in all four indicators in both areas, and 21st in health, where we worsened in low birth weight babies and in child and teen death rates.
For most of the 30 years of publication, Utah has ranked in the top 10 in the country in overall ranking. We even got close once and ranked second. But we have never reached the illusive top spot.
What would it take to get us there? If Utah wants to be the best in the nation in the percent of kids in poverty, then we need to reduce the number of kids below the poverty line by 6,000 kids. Want to be the state with the fewest low birth weight babies? Then we need to reduce the number by 496. Instead of being one of the worst in the nation in the percent of kids without health insurance how about we reduce the number of kids at-risk by 62,000 and be the best. These are all levels that can be achieved!
Supporting low-income families is essential to ensuring the development and success of our children. Passing legislation to support working families, including paid family leave and a meaningful increase in the minimum wage, will give parents the tools they need to support their children.
Similarly, funding greater investments in maternal and infant health including prenatal services, home visitation programs, and full Medicaid expansion would ensure that all moms and babies have access to affordable coverage and care. And, expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit can help ensure that we lift communities most in need of vital resources.
We must create a brighter future for our kids, a future where all Utah’s kids have the chance to realize their full potential. Policymakers have the power to meaningfully advance the potential for our children and young people by making sustained investments in all four domains represented in the KIDS COUNT Data Book.
Stacia Tauscher once said “We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.”
If we want our children to become the workers of tomorrow — the teachers, the scientists, the builders, and the innovators — then we must make sure their needs are met today.
How will the Data Book rank us in the next 30 years? The answer is up to all of us.
Terry Haven is deputy director of Voices for Utah Children