TERRE HAUTE —
New data shows good news about Indiana children’s health but other areas still need improvement.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book for 2013, Indiana ranked 21st in child health, up 13 spots from last year.
A 20 percent decrease in the rate of child and teen deaths from 2005 to 2010 and a drop of 4 percent in the percentage of babies born at a low birth rate during the same time period contributed to the new, higher ranking.
The rankings are for the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“The best news from this report comes from the health data,” said Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute, an organization that contributed data to the book.
He said reports show fewer teenagers abusing drugs and alcohol in Indiana. The numbers also show fewer teenagers dying in car crashes.
But “the job never ends,” he said, as a new generation of children grow up that need to be educated about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
The decrease of the number of babies being born with low birth weight also contributed to the state’s ranking.
Stanczykiewicz said that in Vigo County, in particular, there has been a decline in smoking by pregnant women. Smoking while pregnant is linked to low birth weight in babies.
These health trends show that Indiana is “moving in the right direction,” Stanczykiewicz said.
However, Indiana still lags behind in child poverty. The Kids Count Data Book ranked the economic well-being of Hoosier children 26th, down two spots from the 2012 data book.
Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of Indiana’s children age 18 and under live in poverty. According to the Indiana Youth Institute, “that figure matches the national average” but Indiana’s child poverty rate grew 35 percent from 2005 to 2011 compared to 21 percent for the national average.
In Vigo County, about 25 percent of children age 17 and under are poor, according to the data book.
Local scholars are watching the issue closely.
“Overall, as far as I understand, the rates of poverty for children have increased since the ’08 recession here in Vigo County, with a slight improvement over the last year. Within the state, Vigo County’s per capita income has always been low making the rates of poverty for children higher in our area than in other parts of the state even prior to the ’08 recession,” said Dr. Lisa Phillips, assistant professor of History at Indiana State University, who does research on poverty trends.
It’s all about the availability of jobs.
“I know our area of the country, the Midwest, has experienced a gradual decline in manufacturing jobs, we’re part of what’s called the “rust belt” … most of the strong manufacturing states have experienced a similar increase in child poverty,” Phillips said.
“Children are poor because their parents are unemployed or underemployed … the few times in U.S. history when poverty rates have been lower are directly tied to the general health of the U.S. economy and to the idea that successful companies act responsibly by paying their employees enough money to raise a family,” she said.
But people are hopeful.
Phillips said there’s talk that manufacturing jobs will return.
Other indicators in the data book might provide insight to other solutions.
Indiana’s overall rank for 2013 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C. improved to 30th from 31st in 2012. In addition to the health and economic well-being rankings, the Kids Count Data Book ranks the state 34th in education and 30th in family and community.
Part of the solution to the problem of child poverty is educating Hoosiers, Stanczykiewicz said. He added that Vigo County is on the right track with a 92 percent high school graduation rate.
But the jobs of the future require education beyond high school, Stanczykiewicz said.
He said it is important to help “Hoosiers get more educated beyond high school so they can get better jobs in this 21st century economy.”
Stanczykiewicz also said he “hopes this report will be the last time we hear about increase in child poverty.”
He said that officials should use this data to continue the efforts on health while improving efforts to address the issues in child poverty.
The Kids Count data book provides a comprehensive index to measure childhood well-being at the national and state level in four categories — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org