What it’s like for kids to grow up in Washington state: The good, the bad and the ugly

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A new report rates the well-being of Washington’s kids as just above average. Here’s why.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count Data Book rates all 50 U.S. states on a multitude of factors, and uses them to calculate four main indicators: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Washington places 19th overall – the best among states on the Pacific coast, which is (kind of) an accomplishment. Northeastern states dominate the top ten, with six of the top ten states hailing from the original New England colonies (plus Vermont). The states rounding out the bottom of the order were primarily southern and southwestern states.

Washington does very well in health rankings, at sixth overall. As of 2011, only 6% of children in Washington lack health insurance, only 7% of teens used alcohol or drugs, and only 21 per 100,000 children or teens die. The only measure in that category to worsen was the percentage of low birthweight babies, which rose to 6.3% in 2010. The downside? In last year’s Data Book, Washington state ranked fourth in overall the health measure.

Our state’s worst category for kids is economic well-being. From 2005-2011, Washington’s child poverty rate increased from 15% to 18%, for a total of almost 300,000 children. Likewise, between 2008-2011 the rate of children whose parents lack secure employment rose from 26% to 33% – that’s over half a million kids! While these numbers were in large part a function of the recession, Washington’s overall economic ranking stayed the same from 2012 to 2013.

There is some modestly good news on the education front. In spite of Washington’s decade-long failure to adequately fund K-12 education, from 2012-13, Washington moved up one place in that area – from 26th to 25th. The most recent numbers show relative improvements in preschool attendance, eighth grade math proficiency, and on-time graduation rates.

While these improvements should be celebrated, we have long way to go. Washington state needs major investments in K-12 education to improve the well-being of our state children and ensure they are well-prepared to meet future challenges.

By EOI Intern Bill Dow

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