COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | ALAN NEVIN

California: A great place for kids?

The Annie E. Casey Foundation produces a publication every year called “Kids Count.” The foundation’s goal is to improve outcomes for America’s most vulnerable children.

The “Kids Count Data Book” looks at factors relating to children’s well-being. As part of this effort, the foundation rates states on 20 documentable factors such as poverty, education and health.

My particular interest, of course, relates to California. Unfortunately, California ranks 39th in the nation and in several cases are in the bottom 10 percent.

Uniformly, the highest-rated states are in the Northeast; Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire lead the way in almost all categories. Southeast states are inevitably at the bottom, along with New Mexico, Nevada and California.

Generally speaking, on a national basis, the worst rankings are for education. A startling 66 percent of fourth- and eighth-graders are not proficient in reading. And 19 percent of students do not graduate from high school on time, although there have been some modest gains in recent years. The proficiencies have declined from 71 percent in the past decade, but they are still dismal.

In California, fourth-graders not proficient in reading are at the 73 percent level and in the eighth grade at 72 percent; 18 percent don’t graduating high school on time.

Perhaps the most disparaging rating for California is in children’s economic well-being, which relates to housing affordability and good-paying jobs. In that category, California ranks 48th, trailed only by Mississippi and New Mexico. California ranks dead last in the category of “children living in households with a high housing-cost burden.”

However, there are a few areas where California is making progress and that is to be applauded. The state ranks 26th in health care for children and only seven states have lower child and teen deaths per 100,000.

Although California ranks among the lowest teen births per 1,000 females, with 26, it is nice to know that in the past-quarter century, the rate has fallen from 71, a decline of almost two-thirds. California embarked on a massive and remarkably successful statewide campaign in 1997 to reduce the birth rate among teenagers. To put the ranking in perspective, the lowest rate is 14 in Massachusetts and the highest is 47 in New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Some nationwide figures that are disturbing:

• The percentage of children living in single-family families grew from 32 percent in 2005 to 35 percent today and significantly more so since 1990.

• Two-thirds of black children and 42 percent of Hispanic children live in single-parent families. That compares with 25 percent for non-Hispanic white children and 17 percent for Asian children.

• More than 80 percent of black and Hispanic fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, compared to 49 percent of Asian and 55 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Now let’s turn to San Diego County. An organization called Children Now keeps an annual scorecard on children’s well-being.

San Diego County is doing better than the rest of the state in most categories. Here are a few examples:

• Young children who are read to every day: near the top of the state (71 percent).

• Seventh-graders who meet or exceed state standards for math: San Diego County (56 percent). The top county is Placer (63 percent); the lowest are Riverside and San Bernardino (47 percent).

• Pre-natal care: San Diego County (83 percent); Marin County (94 percent) and Imperial County (56 percent)

• 12th-graders who graduate on time: San Diego County (78 percent); Santa Barbara (83 percent) and San Francisco (51 percent).

• Health insurance: San Diego County (92 percent); Sacramento (94 percent) and Orange County (90 percent).

Overall, national scores are improving, as are California’s, and San Diego County is doing better than most. And I guess we should be thankful about that, except that it is unfortunate that most states in the nation are not achieving enviable goals. In fact, most are pathetic.

I would think there would be a national effort to dramatically raise scores for education, health care and well-being, but I just never hear it mentioned.


Nevin is a team leader in market research and forensic services at Xpera Group, the West Coast’s largest source of experts in construction and real estate. He can be reached at anevin@xperagroup.com

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