By Jamey Dunn
While the number of children living in poverty in Illinois has increased in recent years, the state saw improvements in education and health care, according to a new study that seeks to measure the quality of life of children across the country.
The 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation looked at four categories: health, education, economic well-being and family and community factors. Overall, Illinois ranked 21st out of 50 states, which is an improvement over the state's 27th ranking in 2011.
According to the study, Illinois generally followed national trends, which showed improvement in some areas of education and health while economic security and positive factors at home and in the community slipped. According to the study, the number of children living in poverty in America has increased from 12.2 million in 2000 to more than 15.7 million in 2010.
“Unlike the domains of education and health, where children are benefiting from long-term progress overall, the economic well-being of children and families has plummeted because of the recession,” the report said.
Of the more than 15.7 million kids living in poverty in 2010, 600,000 were in Illinois, and the state ranked 27th in the category for economic well-being. In 2010, 19 percent of Illinois children were living in poverty, this is an increase from 16 percent in 2005 but below the national average for 2010, which is 22 percent. Job security for families also appeared to be slipping in the state, with 32 percent of children living with parents who lacked job security. That has increased from 26 percent in 2005.
Illinois ranked fourth among the states in health insurance coverage for children in 2010. Only 4 percent of children in the state went without coverage, compared with 8 percent nationally. However, that still meant that 140,000 Illinois children were without health insurance in 2010. Illinois ranked 14th in overall child health and has improved since 2005 in all health related areas measured by the study.
But Illinois child advocates worry that recent cuts to the Medicaid program may cause a backslide in the state’s progress. Larry Joseph, director of the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children, said that none of the Medicaid changes would directly effect children's eligibility on a "broad scale." However, he said there is concern that new focus on verifying eligibility for the program through information contained in databases could lead to children losing coverage when they are actually still eligible for it. “One of the concerns that we have is that in any database there’s a certain error rate. So how this is implemented is going to be very important. We don’t want kids—or anyone else for that matter—to be removed from Medicaid enrollment because there was a data error somewhere. So it’s important that there be safeguards,” he said.
“Let’s say there’s a 2 percent error rate, well that could be thousands of kids who are wrongly removed from the rolls.” He also said that new limits on prescription drugs may make it difficult for some children to get needed medication. “The kids that have multiple medications are usually kids with special health care needs.”
According to the report, Illinois also made some gains in education. Fewer children missed out on preschool. Between 2005 and 2007, half of Illinois children at preschool age were not in school. Between 2008 and 2010, 48 percent of Illinois kids at preschool age, or 153,000, did not attend preschool. Nationally, 53 percent of children did not go to preschool over the same time period. However, Joseph said that if the study had looked at more recent data, which reflects cuts to state funded preschool, Illinois would have received a lower ranking. "Illinois had become a leader in early childhood education,” said Gaylord Gieseke, president of Voices for Illinois Children. “It’s unfortunate that progress has been eroding, especially since we know that children who receive support early have a greater chance of success in school, at work, and throughout their lives. Investing in kids makes sense from both social and fiscal perspectives."
While some areas of education, such as reading and math proficiency, showed improvement in the report, the number of Illinois kids who do not graduate from high school on time is up by 10 percent from the 2005 to 2006 school year.
Illinois was ranked 28th on family and community factors. In 2010, 989,000 children were living in single-parent households, which is a 10 percent increase from 2005. The number of children living in areas that have high poverty rates was 304,000, an increase of 25 percent since 2000. “We know that children who grow up in concentrated poverty, regardless of their family's income, are more likely to experience harmful levels of stress, more likely to struggle in school, and less likely to achieve economic success as adults,” Gieseke said.
Patrick McCarthy, president and chief operating officer of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, described in the report what he thinks kids need to succeed. “We know what it takes for children to thrive and to become successful adults. We have reams of research and data identifying the best predictors of success: getting a healthy start at birth and maintaining healthy development in the early years; being raised by two married parents; having adequate family income; doing well in school, graduating high school and completing post-secondary education or training; avoiding teen pregnancy and substance abuse; staying out of trouble; and becoming connected to work and opportunity.”
He also warned that many children are not getting those resources. “Millions of American children are growing up with risk factors that predict that they will not succeed in the world they will inherit. And if they don’t succeed, this country will become increasingly less able to compete and thrive in the global economy, thereby affecting the standard of living and the strength of our nation for all of us.”