New report shows California ranks 41st in the nation
Together with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Oakland-based nonprofit Children Now released their 2012 report on children's well-being. The report looks across four broad categories: economic well-being; education; health; and family and community. California children had one bright spot -- health -- where the state ranked in the middle, at 23rd. But in the other three categories, the state ranked near the bottom in each, earning a combined score of 41st in the country.
In an interview with KQED's Joshua Johnson, Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, expressed deep concern. "Our kids are not faring well and it's a real tragedy that we're in the bottom 10 among the 50 states in just about every indicator other than health. Kids are really bearing the brunt of the economic downturn we've been in."
No kidding. According to the report, more than one-third (36 percent) of California children live in families where no parent has a full-time, year-round job. More than one in five children in the state (22 percent) are living in poverty.
At the other end from these low numbers was the one seeming bright spot for California children: health. Overall, California ranked 23rd, but that comparatively higher ranking is in part due to the state's lower percentage of low-birthweight babies -- less than 7 percent, making California #11 among the 50 states. California's First Five program targets both prenatal care, infant health and child development up to 5 years of age. "The health stats show that if you have a long-time sustained focus that you can do better," Lempert said. "We've had a real focus on pre-natal care and infant care in this state and that's showing in terms of relatively better stats. But as a lifetime Californian, I'm not jumping around saying, 'Yay, we're #11.' I'd like to be high in all the rankings."
And if money spent on infant health nets better outcomes, money not spent in other areas takes a toll. For example, education. A whopping 75 percent of 4th graders are not proficient in reading, according to the report. California's children rank near the bottom -- 43rd in the country in the education category. "These national comparisons are important," Lempert told Joshua Johnson. "California is in the bottom half when it comes to educational funding. We are higher up in lots of other areas, corrections and law enforcement and others. So these budget cuts do take a toll, and we need to get serious about not just giving lip service to education but making sure it truly is the top priority in terms of funding," he said. "The fact that we rank 42nd in high school graduation, that's a bigger hit to our economy than the downturn in recent years. For us to have that many kids not getting a high school degree puts us in severe jeopardy going forward."
So which states scored high? Coming in 1st, 2nd and 3rd overall were New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. While these states are significantly smaller and less diverse than California, Lempert insists California could learn much from them. "When you look at how our state prioritizes kids, there's a lot that our leaders in Sacramento could be doing, and that we could be doing locally, to really make kids the priority. Yes, we have challenges that other states don't, but that's no excuse for some of these measures where we really have not been prioritizing our children."
You can dive into the full report here [PDF] or below is a recap of the overall rankings, plus the state rankings in each of the four categories.