Naked City

Report: kids don't fare so well in Texas

By Wells Dunbar, Fri., Aug. 19, 2005

Texas ranks 37th out of 50 in a measure of overall childhood well-being, in a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Kids Count, an annual report dedicated to disadvantaged children, takes 10 wellness indicators into account, including teen births, teen and child deaths, and health and income measures. The Lone Star State fares slightly better than the national average in some ways, said Frances Deviney, director of the Texas Kids Count Project. "A lot of the teen indicators were very good," said Deviney, explaining that the demographic's death, birth, and drop-out rates were improving. "All in all, teens are doing better than they were at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, that's not the case for younger children."

Texas' low ranking is due to a convergence of poverty and poor health care, trends that aid and abet an encroaching infant mortality rate. Data from 2003, the most recent available, indicate that 23% of Texas children live in poverty, ranking the state seventh from the bottom. Unsurprisingly, 21.2% of Texas children were without health insurance in 2002, the most recent year for which data is available. That's nearly double the national average. "We have the highest rate of uninsured children in the country," Deviney said. "We're 50th on that indicator." The 2002 numbers are even more troubling considering they occurred before the Texas Legislature slashed funding to the Children's Health Insurance Program in 2003. "This last session, they increased the CHIP funding, but it hasn't erased the cuts from 2003," Deviney said. She also expressed concern for those children in families below 200% of the poverty level, too poor to afford insurance, but just over the cut-off for CHIP and similar program coverage. Texas is home to 8% more such families than the national average. "It's those children," she said, that are "falling through the cracks."

Texas also has an abysmal teen pregnancy rate. Even with a 7% decline, Texas still ranks 49th in the country. (Thanks, abstinence education!) That trend, combined with general poverty and poor health care, has contributed to a 12% increase in Texas' infant mortality rate, which, while below the national average, is climbing to meet it. The Kids Count report and state summaries are available at www.aecf.org/kidscount.

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