Utah ranks seventh in the nation for childhood well-being, according to the 2019 KIDS COUNT Data Book released yesterday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The state dropped one spot since the report last year, when it ranked 6th overall.
The annual report ranks states in four categories. Utah ranks first in the nation in the family and community category, a rank it also held in 2018.
Utah moved up three places from last year in economic well-being, now ranking 4th. It dropped from 12th to 13th in education and from 19th to 21st in health.
Despite dropping in two categories relative to other states, Utah improved in 12 of the report’s 16 sub-categories since 2010, including all four sub-categories in education.
“While we’ve improved, we’re still behind,” said Terry Haven, deputy director at Voices for Utah Children, an advocacy organization that receives grant funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and collects local data on child well-being.
This is because the number of children in the state has grown significantly.
The child poverty level in the state has improved by 8% since 1990, but there are 300,000 more children in the state than there were 30 years ago. As a result, 25,000 more children are living in poverty now, according to a press release from Voices for Utah Children.
Utah might rank in the top ten overall, as it usually does in the annual KIDS COUNT rankings, but the kids who are facing these difficulties don’t care how the state ranks, Haven said.
But Haven said that what the state does in response to the data matters.
“The policies we make have an effect on the data,” Haven said. “If we want to be number one, there are things we can do.”
The primary ways that Utah could improve its ranking, Haven said, are reducing the number of children living in poverty, expanding access to preschool and all-day kindergarten, and increasing access to health insurance through expanding Medicaid.
Utah is one of only a few states that does not fund Head Start, which is one way the state could expand access to preschool.
Many of the categories are also intertwined, Haven said. If a child lacks insurance and is chronically ill, that could pull them out of school, affecting their academic performance.
According to the KIDS COUNT Data Book, the percentage of children without health insurance has declined by 4% — from 11% to 7% — but 71,000 children lack health insurance across the state. The percentage of children who lack insurance across the nation is about 5%.
Children in Davis County fair slightly better, with 4.7% uninsured (about 5,560 children in the county), lower than the national average. Children in Weber County fair slightly worse, with 7.5% in the county uninsured (about 5,740 children), according to county-level data compiled by Voices for Utah Children from 2012–2016.
According to the KIDS COUNT Data Book, one of the most significant improvements for children in Utah since 2010 is the decline in children living in households with a high housing cost burden.
In 2010, 37% of children lived in such households. In 2019, that portion declined 24% of children, a 13% improvement.
Another significant change across the state since 2010 is a decline in the number of students graduating late from high school.
In 2010, 24% of high school students did not graduate on time. In 2016-2017, 14% of high school students did not graduate on time, a decline of 10%.
The two sub-categories where the state has worsened are the percentage of low birth-weight babies and the number of child and teen deaths.
The state’s percentage of low birth-weight babies has slightly increased, moving from 7% in 2010 to 7.2% in 2017.
The number of child and teen deaths has increased from 24 per 100,000 to 25. The total number of child and teen deaths in 2017 was 237.