(July 2014) The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released a special 25th edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book that highlights efforts since 1990 to raise awareness locally and nationally about how kids are doing and what policies and programs might lead to improvements in child well-being in the United States. The Population Reference Bureau provided key analysis and input.

The special edition finds that despite tremendous gains during recent decades for children of all races and income levels, inequities among children persist, and children of color face more obstacles to opportunity.

Long-Term Trends

In assessing the context for 25 years of change in child well-being, the Data Book shows that between 1990 and 2012, the child population in the United States grew from 64 million to 74 million and exhibited a fundamental shift in racial and ethnic composition. The share of white children declined by 16 percentage points while the share of Latino children doubled. According to the Data Book, “by 2018, children of color will represent a majority of children, and by 2030, the majority of workers will be people of color. By the middle of the 21st century, no single racial group will comprise a majority of the population.”

While the report finds critical improvements in child well-being since 1990—a steady rise in the number of children attending preschool, an increase in the number of kids proficient in reading and math, increased access to health care, increased education levels of parents, and declines in the teen birth rate and the child mortality rate—some negative trends remain:

  • The child poverty rate dropped from 18 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2000, but has since risen again to 22 percent, resulting in more than 16 million children living in poverty in 2012.
  • In 1990, 25 percent of children lived in a single-parent household; by 2012, this share had risen to 35 percent.
  • The share of low birth-weight babies has risen.
  • The share of children growing up in poor communities has increased; in 2012, 13 percent of children were living in neighborhoods where the poverty rate was 30 percent or higher.

Recent Trends

To examine more recent trends in child well-being between 2005 and 2012, the Data Book uses 16 indicators across four areas: Economic Well-Being, Education, Health, and Family and Community. The results show that while children have continued to progress in the areas of education and health, three of the four indicators of economic well-being continue to be worse in the postrecession years than they were in the years preceding the recession. Although the majority of economic indicators do show slight improvement at the national level compared with last year’s Data Book, the lagging economy continues to affect children adversely with more children living in single-parent families and high-poverty areas, and having parents who lack secure employment and have high housing-cost burdens.

According to the report, research shows that the best predictors of success for children are a healthy start, two married parents with adequate family income, doing well in school, avoiding teen pregnancy and substance abuse, and becoming connected to work and opportunity. The Data Book notes the differences in child well-being and long-term outcomes that can be made at the state and federal levels through smart policies, effective programs, and high-quality practices, and stresses that additional attention needs to be focused on reducing:

  • The number of kids living in poverty and in high-poverty neighborhoods.
  • The share of single-parent families.
  • The share of low birth-weight babies.