Conditions for Tennessee Children Worsen

Children in Tennessee are worse off today than they were before the Great Recession of 2008, according to an analysis by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

As part of its annual Kids Count report, the foundation ranks the welfare of children in every state by looking at four sets of data in four categories: economics, education, health, and family and community.

Nationally, Tennessee ranked 38th in this year’s report, compared to 36th in 2008, when the recession started.

Most of the reasons for the lower ranking were economic. Twenty-six percent of the state’s children now live in poverty, for example, up from 22 percent in 2008. Thirty-seven percent of the state’s children live in single-parent families compared to 35 percent in 2008.

“There’s no question less poverty improves outcomes for children,” said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the state Kids Count affiliate.

Outside of economics, children in Tennessee saw improvement, particularly in the area of health. The percentage of teens who abuse drugs shrank from 7 percent before the recession to 5 percent in 2013-14. Child and teen deaths per 1,000 declined from 34 to 29.

“In part that is because of fewer deaths in motor vehicles, the leading cause of death for adolescents,” O’Neal said.

The number of children without health insurance fell from 7 percent in 2008 to 5 percent in 2014, and the percentage of low-birth-weight babies was 9 percent in 2014, down from 9.2 percent in 2008.

In other areas, the number of students not graduating from high school in time dropped from 25 percent in 2007-08 to only 18 percent in 2012-13. And teen pregnancies dropped dramatically, from 52 per 1,000 in 2007-08 to 33 per 1,000 in 2014.

“Unfortunately, we’re still 42nd on [the teen birth rate], but we have made substantial progress,” O’Neal said. “It’s just that other states have made more.”

The number of children who live in homes where the head of household does not have a high school diploma was the same in 2008 and 2014, at 13 percent, as was the percentage of teens not in school and not working, 9 percent in both 2008 and 2014.

The Kids Count data is done on a statewide level and does not show variations by county. But O’Neal said most of the poverty-related issues were prevalent across the state, in both rural and urban communities.

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