Modest Gains for DC Children and Youth Mask Larger Challenges

The DC data in the 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, give us a broad picture of improvements and challenges for children and youth in DC.

The 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book tracks trends in children’s well-being in all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. While DC is not ranked alongside the states, the outlook for DC looks good at first glance. For example, from 2005 to 2010, the percentage of children living in high poverty areas decreased by four percentage points, while teen births per 1,000 teenage girls decreased by 18. Across the DC profile, green “Improvement” flags mark most indicators, and only three indicators appear to have worsened, giving the appearance that the well-being of DC children has substantially improved.

But, a closer look at the numbers reveals how much more progress is required before all DC children live in an environment that allows them to reach their full potential. Areas where modest improvements also mask the magnitude of the challenge include:

•    Children’s Economic Well-Being
The number of children living in poverty remains unacceptably high. Thirty percent of DC children lived in poverty 2011, and 29 percent lived in high poverty areas. While this is a slight improvement from five or 10 years ago, it still is much higher than the national average. Meanwhile, other indicators of economic well-being have worsened; the parents of 47,000 DC children lack secure employment, or are burdened by steep housing costs.

•    Infant Health
Many young children are not getting a promising start in life. One in 10 children in DC were born underweight in 2010, which is associated with a host of health risks in early childhood and later in life. Although there have been significant improvements in this area since 2005, prenatal health efforts remain vitally important.

•    Teen Success in School
While the rate of teen births has decreased significantly, teens in DC still face steep odds in education. In 2010, 40 percent of high school students did not graduate on time, and more than one in 10 DC teens were not in school and not working.

It is important to understand the “big picture.” But decision-makers’ response to larger trends will be more effective if we also understand the details of children’s lives and the localized challenges they face every day. For this reason, after you read the 2013 KIDS COUNT Databook, take another look at our DC KIDS COUNT e-databook, which visualizes indicators of children’s well-being at the neighborhood level, revealing patterns of disparity within our city that should guide our public policy discussions.  

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