Thursday, July 28, 2005

Kids Count – or not

Yesterday the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count report focusing on ten separate indicators of child well-being using the most recent data available. The full breakdown of Louisiana’s performance is here. Since at least 1999, Louisiana has been firmly ensconced in 49th place for its performance on indicators that serve as measures of child well-being. According to the Associated Press, of the "10 categories studied, Louisiana's statistics grew worse in eight, including infant mortality, high school dropouts and teen deaths." That same report quoted the study's researcher who observed, "Louisiana is getting worse faster than the rest of the country." That's not what it's supposed to look like when children are a state priority. Note that 49th that doesn’t always mean second-to-last. Sometimes it means tied for last place. In the case of infant mortality for example, it means Louisiana is tied with Mississippi for last place. The same is true for high school drop out rates. Check out the lead paragraph from an Arizona newspaper: “Once again, Arizona's high school dropout rate is the worst in the nation, though this time we share last place with Louisiana.” Think that's bad? Referring to Kids Count, the Times Picayune noted the state's child poverty rate, "soared by a staggering 11 percent between 2000 and 2003... As many as half the state's youngsters live in households with incomes below the poverty level and 30 percent of them are trapped in outright destitution." 50% of the state's children in poverty? 30% subsisting in "outright destitution"? That's shameful. But at least there's money for convention center hotels, sugar mills and reservoirs. Because that's the stuff that really matters. Rhetoric from the state’s elected officials insists that Louisiana makes children a priority, but the evidence points to a different reality altogether.