Twenty-seven percent of Kentucky children lived in poverty in 2012, according to the 2014 Kids Count report released Tuesday.
That percentage is worse than 25 years ago when about a quarter of Kentucky kids lived in poverty, said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, which produced the report with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
This is the 25th annual Kids Count report, which examines issues facing children across the country. Since 1990, Kentucky has improved in other categories analyzed in the report, such as child health, according to the report.
The economic issues may be holding the state back in making real strides in child well-being, Brooks said. He said economics have a broad impact on the other areas Kids Count studies—health, education and family/community.
“My hypothesis is that until and unless we address the issue of poverty, those other indicators such as education are simply not going to move at a sufficient pace," Brooks told WFPL.
Kids Count ranks Kentucky 35th overall in children's well-being. Kentucky also ranks 35th overall in economic well-being. Among the other Kids Count findings:
- 35 percent of children have parents who lack secure employment—up from 33 percent in 2008
- 29 percent of Kentucky children live in households with high housing cost burdens
Policy changes can make the difference on the children's well-being rankings, Brooks said, pointing to the only of the four measures to show clear improvement over the past 25 years: health. Six percent Kentucky kids didn't have health insurance in 2012—that's half of what it was in the 1990 Kids Count report, according to information from KYA.
Brooks said the state Children's Health Insurance Program, initiated in 1997, is a large part of the improvement. The state's steps to expand healthcare access under the Affordable Care Act should further those gains in the future, he added.
“It’s a wonderful example that smart policies, whether that’s from Washington or Frankfort, can make a difference," Brooks said.
To a lesser extent, Brooks said, education is another area of improvement since 1990, which he attributed in part to the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act.
The Kid's Count rankings for Kentucky (against the other states) in each of the four areas were:
- 35th in economic well-being
- 30th in education
- 28th in health
- 40th in family and community
Brooks said the economic well-being ranking—which, again, Brooks ties to the other three—could be addressed through some policy changes. As he has in the past, Brooks said a state earned income tax credit would help families who live in poverty. Tax reform has been on the state legislature's docket in recent years, but has failed so far to move much in the legislative process.
Indiana's overall ranking was 27th. It also ranked:
- 19th in economic well-being
- 26th in education
- 27th in health
- 31st in family and community