Lewis Diuguid

For now, Kansas comes out better than Missouri in 2015 Kids Count report

Leslie Seifert-Cady gets some help from the classroom during an educational performance about literacy with her husband, Jay Cady, at Mission Trail Elementary School in Leawood. Educational outcomes for children in Kansas will likely worsen in the coming years because of state budget problems.
Leslie Seifert-Cady gets some help from the classroom during an educational performance about literacy with her husband, Jay Cady, at Mission Trail Elementary School in Leawood. Educational outcomes for children in Kansas will likely worsen in the coming years because of state budget problems. The Kansas City Star

For now, Kansas looks a lot better than Missouri does in the 2015 Kids Count report, measuring the economic well-being, education, health and family and community supports for children.

But the Annie E. Casey Foundation project to track the state-by-state status of children in America uses 2013 data. The devastating effects of the 2012 and 2013 tax cuts enacted by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback won’t start to show up until Kids Count reports in the next couple of years. Education, health and well-being will likely plunge because of Brownback’s Hail Mary budget cuts for businesses and the wealthy in the state combined with tax shifting. The combo will make Missouri look good in comparison.

That’s in addition to the desperate increase in the sales tax in Kansas, which will disproportionately affect middle- and low-income families in the Sunflower State and send more Kansas shoppers across the state line to boost the income in the Show-Me State. In the Kids Count report for Kansas, the worst is yet to come.

But for now, Kansas ranked 15th in the nation in overall child well-being compared with Missouri coming in 26th. Minnesota was No. 1 and Mississippi was last.

In economic well-being, Kansas was ninth in the nation compared with Missouri’s 24th ranking. The child poverty rate in Kansas in 2013 was 19 percent compared with 22 percent in Missouri, which matched the U.S. child poverty rate of 22 percent, or 16.1 million kids. The rate for the U.S. was down slightly after trending upward since 2008 when 18 percent, or 13.2 million kids lived in poverty.

The percentage of children in poverty is based on income below $23,624 for a family of two adults and two children in 2013.

Kansas and Missouri are book-ended by New Hampshire with a 2013 child poverty rate of 10 percent and Mississippi with a child poverty rate of 34 percent. “The child poverty rate among African Americans (39 percent) was more than double the rate for non-Hispanic whites (14 percent) in 2013,” the report said.

The economic recovery since the Great Recession has helped, creating 2.95 million jobs in 2014, “the best year of job growth in the United States since 1999,” the report said.

However, the job growth has been uneven, stranding children and families who are dependent on low-wage work. African Americans and Latino children have been hurt more than whites and Asian Americans.

A recent Pew Research Center report also found that black children were nearly four times as likely as white children to be living in poverty in 2013. About 38.3 percent of black children lived in poverty — four times the rate for white children — that year compared with 30.4 percent of Hispanic kids and 10.1 percent of Asian children. Also for the first time since the government started collecting data, the number of African American children in poverty may now be greater than white children living in poverty, despite white children in total numbers far surpassing those who are black. In actual numbers, however, the greatest number of children in the U.S. living in poverty are Latino — 5.4 million.

A troubling trend has been the percentage of children living in concentrated poverty. In 2000, “9 percent of children lived in census tracts, where the poverty rate of the total population was 30 percent or more. The figure rose to 14 percent for the period from 2009 to 2013,” the report noted.

“Low family income, low levels of parental education and inadequate housing in high-poverty neighborhoods pose risks to children and are associated with diminished prospects later in life,” Patrick T. McCarthy, president and chief executive of the foundation writes in the report. “The challenge is as clear as it is urgent. We must renew our commitment to one of our nation’s primary values: Individuals who are willing to work hard should be able to provide for their families.”

McCarthy notes that solutions could include providing parents with multiple paths to get family-supporting jobs to achieve financial stability, ensuring access to high-quality early childhood education and enriching elementary school experiences, and equipping parents to better support their children socially and emotionally and to advocate for their children’s education.

These need to be bandwagon items for candidates in the 2016 presidential election.

In the area of education, Kansas ranked 12th in the nation compared with Missouri being 23rd. Massachusetts was No. 1, and Nevada was last.

In health, Kansas was 13th, while Missouri was 33. Neither state has acted to expand Medicaid, which also hurts low-income families. Neighboring Iowa ranked No. 1, and Mississippi was last.

In family and community support, Kansas was 24th, while Missouri was 26. New Hampshire was No. 1, and Mississippi again was last.

The report shows that Missouri and Kansas must do a better job to help children grow up with better nutrition, health care, housing and a supportive environment. The numbers will tilt downward for Kansas in the coming years unless the Brownback tax cuts are reversed to give children and the state a better outlook for tomorrow.

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