Kids Count 2016 ranks Florida 40th nationally in overall measures of child well-being that include economic well-being, education, health, family and community. This ranking reflects the effects of family poverty on Florida’s children.
Florida, ranks 40th among the fifty states in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count 2016 survey that analyzes factors that contribute to child well-being. This ranking demonstrates the need for greater investment in Florida’s children. Notably, Florida ranks above the midpoint of states on only two out of 16 variables.
In addition to an overall ranking, Kids Count provides a state ranking for each of four areas related to child welfare. Specifically, rankings are assigned for: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. The rankings are based on the percentage of children within the state who may be affected negatively by factors within each area. State rankings are then assigned based on the comparative percentage of affected children.
The ranking in the four areas is summarized briefly below after which more detailed analysis is provided for each.
Kids Count notes that economic stability is crucial to children’s well-being. To the extent that parents have stable employment that offers wages and benefits to cover the necessities of life, parents have more money, time, and energy to invest in their children. Instability and substandard wages result in stress that renders the best-intentioned parents less able to be effective. In the worst case, parents who are unemployed or underemployed cannot meet the most basic needs of their children.
The four variables Kids Count considered in economic well-being are:
With 24 percent of children living in poverty (income below $24,000 for a family of four), Florida ranks 37th nationally. Moreover, the poverty rate for children in Florida has increased by 33 percent since 2008.
The parents of 1.3 million children (32 percent of children in Florida) lack secure employment, tying Florida with two other states for a ranking of 36th nationally. There are more children whose parents lack secure employment in 2014 than 2008. Kids Count describes “secure employment” as full-time employment with wages above the poverty level.
Almost 1.7 million children (41 percent) live in households that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Accordingly, Florida ranks 46th nationally for children living in households with a high housing cost burden.
Florida ranks 36th for the 78,000 teenaged children (8 percent) who are neither enrolled in school nor working. These teenagers are building neither the skills nor workplace experience necessary to successfully enter the workforce and achieve economic independence.
Education provides a life-long social and academic foundation that starts with toddlers and, ideally, ends at death. Early learning is crucial for developing the skills needed for success in elementary school. Children who are prepared to enter kindergarten, then first grade, are significantly more likely to keep up with their peers at each grade level. Conversely, children who start school with an academic deficit are likely to experience increasing academic disparity with each successive grade. The K-12 curriculum is designed to instill the knowledge and skills that prepare students for success in higher education or the workforce. Their future economic well-being, and by extension, our well-being as a state, rides on their academic success as students.
The four variables Kids Count considered in education are:
Half of three- and four-year-old Florida children are not enrolled in school programs, ranking Florida 12th in that measure. Prekindergarten programs provide a variety of stimuli that foster learning and interpersonal engagement. For economically disadvantaged children, access to this stimulus-rich environment helps bridge resource gaps at home.
61 percent of fourth graders in Florida are not proficient in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which ranks Florida 17th in this measurement. Reading proficiency is fundamental for mastering subjects covered in the curriculum. Reading for understanding is also a fundamental skill for an informed citizenry.
74 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which places Florida 41st in this category. Math proficiency has grown increasingly important in a technology-based workforce. The higher-level Florida Standards for math should substantially increase the proficiency of eighth graders within the next five years.
24 percent of Florida students do not graduate on time, placing Florida 43rd of all states in this category. A high school diploma is a critical credential for entering postsecondary vocational or academic programs necessary for the jobs associated with a knowledge economy. Moreover, earnings are significantly different based on educational attainment. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the 2014 median annual earnings for bachelor’s graduates was $50,500, compared with $27,800 for high school graduates and $20,500 for those who do not have a diploma.
Good health is fundamental to child development, starting at birth. Poverty, and attendant issues related to nutrition, routine and preventive health care and mental health, impedes parents’ ability to provide the conditions for a healthy childhood.
The four variables Kids Count considered in health are:
Florida ranks 37th for low-birthweight babies at 8.7 percent. Kids Count defines low birthweight as babies weighing 5.5 pounds or less at birth. Low-birthweight babies are more likely to suffer from short- and long-term disabilities, as well as developmental problems.
Florida ranks 45th for the 378,000 children (nine percent) who have no health insurance. These children are unlikely to have their routine childhood checkups. Of greater importance, they are less likely to receive timely medical care when they are sick, resulting in a higher likelihood of subsequent hospitalization.
Florida ranks 31st for its 26 deaths per 100,000 children. Kids Counts recognizes a variety of factors that affect this rate, such as access to health care, community safety, environmental safety, and sufficient adult supervision.
The state-by-state variation for teens who abuse alcohol or drugs is too small for ranking purposes. With rates ranging from four to six percent for all states, Florida’s rate was six percent.
Children are significantly more likely to thrive when they have nurturing families and supportive communities. Many of the factors associated with child well-being are a function of their parents’ capacity to parent effectively. The family and community variables represent significant inputs to parental capacity.
The four variables Kids Count considered in family and community are:
40 percent of Florida children live in single-parent homes, ranking the state 45th. Single-parent households have a higher likelihood for for limited economic and emotional resources. To the extent that a constructive community supports the parent, children are better served.
Florida ranks 30th for the 12 percent of children who live in a household whose head lacks a high school diploma. Median income increases with educational attainment; parental lack of a diploma typically places children at an economic disadvantage.
Florida ranks 36th for the almost 600,000 children (15 percent) who live in high-poverty areas. These children may be subject to health hazards, as well as increased crime and violence. Lack of opportunity also affects the caretaking ability of parents and communities.
Florida ranks 23rd for having a birth rate of 23 per 1,000 teens. Teen pregnancies pose a higher risk for prenatal and neonatal difficulties. Moreover, to the extent that parenting prevents teens from completing or advancing their education, the pregnancy has a lifelong economic impact for both parent and, potentially, children.
In order to improve its national rankings in analyses such as Kids Count and, more importantly, to improve the lives and prospects of many of Florida’s children, policymakers at the state and local levels must consider an array of policies, programs, and corresponding funding to foster children’s physical, emotional, and intellectual development.
 Annie E Casey Foundation (2016). Kids Count Data Book: State Trends in Child Well-Being. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/resources/the-2016-kids-count-data-book/#state-rankings