PRB and Casey Foundation Create Index of U.S. Child Well-Being

The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently launched its Race for Results Index, a new collection of data developed by demographers at the Population Reference Bureau (PRB). The index disaggregates data by racial and ethnic group and by state in order to measure the “impact of a child’s race on his or her opportunity for success in adulthood,” according to the foundation.

The foundation funds states, cities, and neighborhoods to find innovative ways to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families. The index was featured in the KIDS COUNT policy report, Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children.1

The Benefits of an Index

Policymakers are looking for easy ways to understand information. An index is a concise way to describe data over time, across different geographic areas, population groups, and domains.

The Race for Results Index compares how children are progressing on key benchmarks for health, education and family environment, and neighborhoods. The higher the score (on a scale of zero to 1,000), the better children in that group are doing. At the national level the index shows that no one group is meeting all of the benchmarks. African American, American Indian, and Latino children face some of the biggest challenges to opportunity. Asian and Pacific Islander children have the highest overall index score at 776, followed by white children at 704. Considerably lower are Latino children (404), American Indian children (387), and African American children (345).

The index is built on a complex set of data. PRB worked with the foundation to select 12 key indicators that have been linked to the likelihood of becoming middle class by middle age, and that reflect the importance of supportive families and communities to child well-being:

  • Babies born at normal birth weight.
  • Children ages 3 to 5 enrolled in nursery school, preschool, or kindergarten.
  • Fourth graders who scored at or above proficient in reading.
  • Eighth graders who scored at or above proficient in math.
  • Females ages 15 to 19 who delay childbearing until adulthood.
  • High school students graduating on time.
  • Young adults ages 19 to 26 who are in school or working.
  • Young adults ages 25 to 29 who have completed an associate’s degree or higher.
  • Children who live with a householder who has at least a high school diploma.
  • Children who live in two-parent families.
  • Children who live in families with incomes at or above 200 percent of poverty.
  • Children who live in low-poverty areas (poverty <20 percent).

Across the indicators, the range in percentages varies widely (for example, the percent of babies born at normal birth weight has a much smaller range of possibilities compared to the percent of 4th graders reading at or above proficient), so PRB developed a standardized score in order to make comparisons on a scale of zero to 1,000. Each standardized score (the index) was presented for all states and racial groups.

Concentrated Disadvantages for Regional Groups of Children

Mark Mather, PRB’s associate vice president for U.S. Programs, helped develop the index. He points out the importance of being able to show the wide racial and ethnic gaps in well-being as they vary across the country. “What is most striking to me is the concentrated disadvantage of certain groups in certain parts of the country—American Indian children in the Dakotas, African Americans in the northern Midwest states, whites in Appalachia, and Latinos in parts of the Deep South,” he explained.

Although there has been some progress, such as good performance across all racial groups in delaying childbearing, the report reveals some alarming results. On most indicators, Latino children in immigrant families have the steepest obstacles to success. Other glaring problems across racial and ethnic group include:

  • Only 17 percent of African American and 19 percent of Latino fourth graders scored at or above proficient in reading, compared to a poor national average of 34 percent.
  • Only 14 percent of African American and 21 percent of Latino and American Indian eighth graders scored at or above proficient in math, compared to a poor national average of 34 percent.
  • Only 65 percent of American Indian young adults ages 19 to 26 are in school or working, compared to the national average of 83 percent.
  • Only 63 percent of Latino children live in a household with someone who has at least a high school degree, compared to the national average of 85 percent.

As the United States becomes more diverse, the foundation hopes the Race for Results Index will be used by policymakers to equalize opportunity for all children.


  1. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children (Baltimore: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2014), accessed at, on April 10, 2014.