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Report: NC children show health, education gains despite economic decline

Clayton High School graduates toss their mortarboards high at the end of the 2016 ceremony. The KIDS Count Databook 2016 report shows North Carolina moved up from 35 to 34 in the country in terms of overall child well-being, including a 26 percent reduction in the number of high school students who failed to graduate.
Clayton High School graduates toss their mortarboards high at the end of the 2016 ceremony. The KIDS Count Databook 2016 report shows North Carolina moved up from 35 to 34 in the country in terms of overall child well-being, including a 26 percent reduction in the number of high school students who failed to graduate. djackson@newsobserver.com

Teen birth rates and drug and alcohol use among teens have declined in North Carolina in recent years, but the portion of children living in poverty or in households without steadily employed adults has gone up, according to an annual report on child well-being released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The KIDS Count Databook has been published annually since 1990 and ranks states on the well-being of their children. The 2016 report shows mixed results in the state and nationwide, with gains in education and health but losses in economic well-being and family and community.

North Carolina moved up from 35 to 34 in the country in terms of overall child well-being. The ranking is based on 16 indicators divided into four areas: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. Minnesota ranks first, while Mississippi is last.

The report shows that in the six years ending in 2014, birth rates among teens in North Carolina declined 45 percent, teens abusing drugs and alcohol decreased 29 percent, and the number of high school students who failed to graduate fell 26 percent.

But the state’s children fared worse in terms of financial security and stability. Among the report’s findings:

▪ The portion of children living in poverty rose from 20 percent in 2008 to 24 percent in 2014.

▪ The portion of children whose parents lack secure employment increased from 28 percent in 2008 to 30 percent in 2014.

▪ The number of children living in high-poverty areas jumped 56 percent.

▪ The portion of children living in single-parent households grew from 34 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2014.

NC Child, a statewide nonprofit child advocacy group, said the gains in health and education in North Carolina are notable given the setbacks in economic opportunities and well-being for children born since 1995.

“Despite their increasingly responsible health behaviors, Generation Z children and youth face significant financial barriers to their healthy growth and development,” the group said in a statement.

The report also lists recommendations for lawmakers aimed at boosting the well-being of children. The measures include expanding high quality pre-kindergarten access, increasing the earned income tax credit for low-income workers, and providing paid leave for low-income parents.

“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in health and education,” said Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child. “Now it’s time for North Carolina’s leaders to implement public policies that remove barriers to our next generation’s financial success.”

The full report can be found at www.aecf.org.

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