Arkansas has much work to do to raise itself from the bottom of the barrel when it comes to overall child well-being. The Natural State ranked No. 45 out of 50 states in the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count report released Tuesday. The state ranking slipped one notch from a year ago.
Roughly 188,000 Arkansas children are living in poverty. That comes to 27% up from 26% reported a year ago. Nationally the child poverty rate is 21%, slightly better than 22% in the last year’s report.
“We have a long way to go, and must encourage lawmakers to enact sound tax and budget policies like a state-level earned income tax credit (EITC), so that Arkansas families can find a permanent solution out of poverty,” said Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
Huddleston, an advocate for a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit, said families who receive the credits on a federal level often use the funds to catch up bills or providing essentials for their kids.
“Considering the state’s high child poverty rate and other dismal economic well-being indicators, it’s time to pull the trigger on a state EITC,” Huddleston said.
While poverty is a major issue there are several other areas of concern noted in the report. Areas impacting poverty levels include one in three parents lacking secure employment. This compares to 29% of families across the U.S. In Arkansas about 29% of families experience high housing costs, lower than the 33% nationally. All of this criteria falls into the economic well-being domain where Arkansas ranked 47th, down sharply from No. 36 a year ago.
In the education category Arkansas ranked better coming in at No. 35 overall, an improvement from No. 38 reported last year. Roughly 52% of children ages 3 to 4 are not in school in Arkansas, slightly better than a year ago. That improvement is attributed in part to a $1 billion federal funding boost for U.S. preschool programs that benefited Arkansas families with young children.
There is still much work to do as 68% of fourth graders were not proficient in reading, even with last year and worse than the 65% reported nationally. Likewise 75% of eighth graders were not proficient in math, the same as the prior year but still more than the 68% reported nationally. Roughly 15% of high school students do not graduate, compared to 17% nationally. The high school dropout rate in Arkansas is down from 20% reported last year.
A bright spot in Arkansas’ profile was that 95% of children have health insurance.This is an all-time high and shows continuous improvement over the past five years.
Roughly 6% of Arkansas teens abuse alcohol or drugs, compared to 5% nationally. The child death rate in Arkansas is 34 deaths per 100,000 kids, higher than the national rate at 25 per 100,000. In the health domain Arkansas ranked No. 47, one notch worse than a year ago.
Arkansas fared slightly better in the family and community domain pulling a rank of 44 overall. Two areas of concern include:
• Children living in high poverty areas was slightly better at 16% than last year’s 17%. but the rate is still higher than 14% nationally; and
• Teen births at 38 per 1,000, is much higher than the national rate of 22 out of 1,000. That said Arkansas’ teen birth rate is better than the 40 out of 1,000 reported in 2016.