Contrary to expectations during an economic downturn, the status of children in Mecklenburg County has improved since 2007, according to a study of key health indicators.
The 19th North Carolina Child Health Report Card, issued Wednesday, said the county’s children have made gains when it comes to insurance coverage, dental care and high school graduation rates. In addition, the county’s rates of teen pregnancy and child deaths have dropped.
“It’s no coincidence that Mecklenburg County experienced a significant decline in its teen pregnancy rate and increase in its graduation rate over the past several years,” said Laila Bell, director of research and data at NC Child, a Raleigh-based advocacy organization. “Both of these indicators have been targeted by well-funded state efforts. This improvement should give us hope that we can make progress on big problems when we’re willing to put resources behind data-driven solutions.”
The 2013 report card used data from 2007 to 2012 and found:• Medicaid enrollment increased by 47.5 percent, and enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program increased by 31 percent, consistent with statewide data that show a 30 percent decline in uninsured children.
• Medicaid-eligible children who received dental care increased by 41 percent for children 1-5 and 15.5 percent for children 6-14.
• The state’s teen pregnancy rate dropped 43 percent to 19.7 per 1,000 girls ages 15-17. The rate was 18.9 per 1,000 girls in Mecklenburg.
• Statewide child fatalities continued to decline, falling 22 percent to 58.6 per 100,000 children under 18. Mecklenburg had 119 child deaths in 2012.
• The Mecklenburg graduation rate improved by 3.5 percent, from 73.8 percent in 2006-2007 to 76.4 percent in 2011-2012.
NC Child’s findings for Mecklenburg were not all positive. In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, 22 percent of Mecklenburg children were living in households that struggled to meet basic nutritional needs. Officials said that circumstance is linked to the economy: Mecklenburg’s unemployment rate increased from 4.6 percent to 9.4 percent from 2007 to 2012, and median household income declined 11 percent.
“Food insecurity is a very serious byproduct of poverty that’s making its presence felt in Mecklenburg County,” Bell said.
With the elimination of the state Earned Income Tax Credit and cuts to unemployment benefits, Bell said she is concerned many families could find their economic situation worsening.
“Poverty causes increased financial and emotional strains on families that often result in poorer health outcomes for children,” she said. “Advocates, providers, community and business leaders, state and federal governments must collaborate to strengthen investments in prevention programs.”
To view county reports: http://bit.ly/1gD58Aw.