California nearly last in children’s well-being

California is doing slightly better by its kids but still has a long way to go, ranking 41st out of 50 states in the overall well-being of children. The 2012 Kids Count report, released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, measures how well children are faring on 16 different indicators in education, economic well-being, health, and family and community.

California showed improvements in 10 of the 16 categories, including education. The brightest spot is health, where it ranked 23rd, primarily due to good

2012 Kids Count: California measures of child well-being. Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation. (click to enlarge)

prenatal care and increasing numbers of children with health insurance. But despite some improvements in other categories, the state was near the bottom everywhere else, ranking 42nd in family and community, 43rd in education, and 45th in economic well-being.

“This report shows California is continuing to sell children short,” said Ted Lempert, President of the Oakland-based Children Now, in a written statement.

Last year, California came in at 16th nationwide, mostly on the strength of health issues, but the Casey Foundation revamped its formula this year to give greater weight to education and some economic factors. “When they shored up those indicators, we collapsed,” Lempert told EdSource.

California did improve a little in education. The number of children who are not proficient in reading by fourth grade fell from 79 percent in 2005 to 75 percent in 2011, and the number of eighth grade students not proficient in math dropped from 78 percent to 75 percent. The high school graduation rate also rose a bit.

“I’m going to celebrate the good news,” said Lempert, acknowledging that being in the bottom ten is troubling. “We’ve been hovering a little lower than that, so it’s great that we’re climbing a little, but that trend needs to go up really dramatically, and obviously there’ s a concern that we’d be going in the other direction.”

National picture mixed

Nearly every state showed some improvements in education and health, but, due to the recession, the results were almost universally dismal for economic well-being.

Kids Count: National trends in economic well-being. Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation. (Click to enlarge)

  • One out of every three children has no parent working full-time, year round.
  • 41 percent of children live in families that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.  California is dead last in this category at more than 50 percent.
  • Nearly 15.8 million children are living in poverty, an increase of 2.5 million since 2005.

“This is especially troubling because growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development,” said Laura Speer, the national coordinator for Kids Count at the Casey Foundation.  “It can really affect everything from their cognitive development and their ability to learn, to their social and emotional development and their overall health.”

The impact of the recession has disproportionately hit children of color.  Native American and African American children are nearly twice as likely as white children to be living in families where their parents don’t have a steady job.

The racial divide in education is almost as pronounced.  “We should all be very troubled to learn that well more than half, 58 percent, of white fourth graders had yet to achieve reading proficiency in 2011, yet the numbers for their Latino, African American and American Indian classmates were even worse, with more than 80 percent unable to read well by the time they entered fourth grade,” said Casey Foundation President and CEO Patrick McCarthy.

2012 Kids Count- reading proficiency by race. Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation. (click to enlarge).

California’s gap is nearly identical.  Even though scores increased by a few percentage points, more than 80 percent of African American fourth graders and 88 percent of Latino fourth graders scored below proficient in reading compared to 60 percent of white students.

Cuts may make data out-of-date

The budget cuts and uncertainty surrounding California’s revenues may have already begun to lower the state’s ranking.  Last month, the Legislature approved a bill advocated by Gov. Jerry Brown to eliminate the state’s Healthy Families insurance program that serves 900,000 low-income children and their families and shift them into the state’s Medi-Cal system.  Brown said the move would save about $13 million this year.

Lawmakers and the Governor have promised that they’ll make every effort to ensure that all eligible kids remain covered.  Children Now’s Lempert said advocates are working hard to make the transfer smooth, but there could be losses, and not just in numbers.  “The guarantee is that none of those kids will totally drop off,” he said, but “the quality might not be as strong.”

The state-funded preschool program is already losing enrollment.  According to Kids Count, 52 percent of young children in California don’t attend preschool, 1 percent over the national average.  But cutbacks over the last two years have eliminated between 10,000 and 20,000 slots.

For this year, lawmakers rejected most of Brown’s harshest cuts, but did agree to reduce part-day preschool by $30 million and, for the first time, impose a sliding scale fee for parents with children in the part-day program.

Scott Moore, senior policy adviser for Preschool California, said those changes could double the number of lost slots for low-income children over two years, despite years of neural science research showing that children who attend high quality early childhood education programs are more likely to succeed in school and in life.

There is no secret sauce required to improve children’s well-being.  “We actually know what it takes for children to thrive,” said Casey president McCarthy, citing three key factors:

  • Building a path out of poverty by investing in simultaneously in improving parents’ economic picture and in children’s healthy development and educational success;
  • Helping families so they can provide permanent, stable and nurturing homes;
  • Helping to improve communities.

The largest obstacle is what McCarthy calls the “persistent paralysis of our current political culture.”  He said that the way to get legislative action is by finding common ground.

Right now, the “political will for children is disaggregated,” agreed Lempert.  Advocacy groups need to come out of their silos and work together like they did to improve prenatal and infant care.

“The state made it a priority and it made a difference,” Lempert said.  “We need to do that in education and early education and say we’re going to make ourselves one of the top states in education, and we’re going to stick with it until we are.”

Kathryn Baron is senior reporter at EdSource Today.  Contact Kathryn Baron.

Filed under: College Readiness, Data, High-Needs Students, Reforms, Student Health, Testing and Accountability

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13 Responses to “California nearly last in children’s well-being”

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  1. Regis on Jul 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm07/27/2012 1:41 pm

    • 000

    el and navigio, point well taken and thank you and there lies the conundrum. el, I did focus on the Federal funding, as you’re correct, there are a huge amount of funds (aviation, logging, and other ‘use’ charges).

    navigio, I have no problem with helping those who have lost their jobs, but again, I’ll point out the generational dependency and that’s where I feel that we need to reduce this dependency. I cited the cost per month (2003!) for the County of Los Angeles. The 172 million dollars a month in Social Services has to come out of somebody’s pocket and as a whole, we’re facing a huge crisis in Government Budgets at all levels!

    There’s plenty of blame to pass around for sure and thanks all for your responses and have a great weekend.

  2. el on Jul 27, 2012 at 10:20 am07/27/2012 10:20 am

    • 000

    Regis, it seems to me that a lot of those farmers create a lot of need for social services, given their need for ‘peasant’ labor and the low wages they pay. Farm jobs don’t generally provide health insurance, and if you’re worried about high poverty migrant kids… that’s pretty much where they come from.

    One other thing to keep in mind is that as I’m sure you would advocate, most workers aren’t guaranteed jobs for life at a particular wage. It’s possible and even likely in many cases that people who have jobs and perfectly stable incomes have kids and then lose their jobs or realize that they can no longer have both spouses working 60 hours a week or realize that the job with the hours that change at short notice at the whim of an employer make child care arrangements impossible. The United States as a whole is probably the least family-friendly western nation, despite the protestations of her politicians.

  3. navigio on Jul 27, 2012 at 9:49 am07/27/2012 9:49 am

    • 000

    Regis, keep reading. There is another ~$350M in non general fund spending (tulare seems to have a LOT of different funds! And most of those are definitely ‘support’ services). It seems the number used in the story includes those, while yours is limited to general fund. Ergo the difference.

  4. Regis on Jul 27, 2012 at 8:16 am07/27/2012 8:16 am

    • 000

    Let’s cover the San Francisco Chronicle article first. “…And yet, PER CAPITA, Modoc County gets more state taxpayer dollars than all but one of California’s 58 counties.

    “It showed that conservative counties – like Modoc, with 49.9 percent Republican registration, the state’s highest – generally consumed the most, and liberal counties sent in the most.”

    “Marin County was No. 1 in contributions, at $4,793 per person, and San Francisco was No. 3 at $3,578. Modoc was No. 2 in consumption at $2,216 per person, and conservative Tulare was No. 1, with $2,223.”

    This is based on a PER CAPITA expenditure. No mention whatsoever of how much money went to Tulare County and what it consisted of.

    Here’s a breakdown: The total Tulare County General Fund is $598,091,132 and Health and Human Services comes out to $385,498,835 or 65% of the overall budget. Divide the $598 million by the population of 449,253 and you come up with $1,331 per person, NOT the $2,223 mentioned in the SF Gate article. I’m providing sources for my data, not misleading articles or studies by politicians that have no basis in fact. Show me the data!

    Tulare County Finance Report.

    US Census Data

    Now let us look at San Francisco County:

    San Francisco Population: 812,826

    San Francisco County Budget: $6,562,658,343

    San Francisco Spending per capita is an amazing $8,074 PER person.

    Money from the Federal Govt to Tulare County: $131,381,309. Per Capita $292

    Money from the Federal Govt to San Francisco County: $431,116,936 Per Capita: $530.

    Finally, I will address the NYT article.

    “The NYT article: “In 2000, federal and state governments spent about 37 cents on the safety net from every dollar they collected in revenue, according to a New York Times analysis. A decade later, after one Medicare expansion, two recessions and three rounds of tax cuts, spending on the safety net consumed nearly 66 cents of every dollar of revenue.”

    “Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense.”

    Mr. Gulbranson might label himself as a conservative, but relying on the free breakfast and lunch on the taxpayer dollar is something I disapprove of, and secondly, I think the child tax credit should be done away with, as our tax code penalizes the single taxpayer, who uses far less than the family of five.

    As far as water goes, your argument that farmers want a more extensive, costlier water structure, remember you have to have food or you city folks starve. Secondly, you have to have infrastructure, do you not? And finally, Tulare County had record crops outputting over $5 billion dollars a year to the State Economy.

  5. CarolineSF on Jul 26, 2012 at 6:05 pm07/26/2012 6:05 pm

    • 000

    The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle back up that point:

    And yes, the farmers want a more extensive, costlier water infrastructure, and are bashing “big government” for not providing it, even though they want government to get bigger and provide more.

  6. Regis on Jul 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm07/26/2012 3:38 pm

    • 000

    Again, thank you for your thoughts, but let’s clarify your first statement “I said the farmers are unclear on the concept when they claim to oppose big government while asking government to get bigger and help them more. That’s not selfish, but it’s badly confused.”

    The farmers are not asking government to get bigger (more agencies, more employees, etc), nor are they confused. The Government has always been responsible for infrastructure and water counts as infrastructure. Please explain in what way they want government to get bigger, less the necessity for infrastructure (water, highways, etc)? Because that’s what Government is supposed to do best.

    Let’s look at the supposed ‘hard facts’. “Conservative states and counties accept more government resources”. Exactly what excess Government resources are they using? Please explain, as The U.S. Government’s Legislative Analyst Office has the breakdown in Federal dollars by Agency to California as follows:

    Health and Human Services – 52%, Labor and Workforce Development – 25%, (We’re at 77% already and I don’t see any ‘Farming’ or Conservative related expenditures here, because that demographic can take care of itself). Education – 14% (up to 91% now) and finally, Business. Transportation and Housing – 6%.

    Finally, let’s look at the demographics by county of Democrat vs. Republican (or Liberal vs. Conservative).

    So you’re saying that counties that have huge dependent populations, that demographically, eat up 91% of the money expended at both the Federal and State level, use less government assistance and resources, than conservative populations, who typically are in an upper income bracket, own or run their own businesses and pay more than their far share of taxes???

    I’ve provided numerous government statistics and proof. Not the liberal NYT article on which your dialog is based. Please respond with proof and sources, with how much assistance by the Government is provided to the Conservative demographic in this state? I’m intrigued.

  7. CarolineSF on Jul 26, 2012 at 10:16 am07/26/2012 10:16 am

    • 000

    I never said the farmers’ demands for water infrastructure are selfish. I said the farmers are unclear on the concept when they claim to oppose big government while asking government to get bigger and help them more. That’s not selfish, but it’s badly confused.

    All that other commentary is a diversion from the hard facts: The more conservative states in the nation and the more conservative counties in California consistently accept more government assistance and resources per capita than the liberal states and counties. Conservatives who proclaim themselves to be fiercely independent are actually what they themselves would term “on the dole,” “feeding at the public trough” — far more than liberals.

  8. Regis on Jul 26, 2012 at 9:21 am07/26/2012 9:21 am

    • 000

    Caroline, thank you for your reply. Let’s cover the farm issue first, with the farmers seemingly selfish demands for infrastructure to provide water to their crops. I believe this is a basic tenet of exactly what the Government is supposed to provide! A dependable source of water to grow their crops (which after all, feeds our faces, does it not?).

    This is exactly the role of Government as it should be, providing a basic structure of water, electricity and transportation (including roads, bridges and highways) to enable an economy to function with minimal interference.

    The statement that conservatives (farmers) gobbling more resources is a faulty argument, especially from the NYT. Of course they’re going to ‘gobble’ more resources! It takes water to grow crops, to put food on the market! Don’t forget, those evil conservatives run large businesses (agriculture) that pay taxes on their crops!

    Let’s examine this from a state and county budget standpoint and we can see where this argument is faulty. I’m using data from the California Dept of Finance for King County. The total Civilian Labor force is shown as 55,900, but the 8.5% unemployment rate reduces that to 50,900. Total Federal and State Employees for the region number 12,842 Goverment Workers. That is 27% of the TOTAL Kings County regional employment!!! No wonder we’re broke.

    California’s Agricultural output according to the USDA is over $22 billion dollars a year!

    My biggest beef with ‘helping the children’ is it’s a never-ending black hole of borrowed and extorted money from the taxpayer, that is ill-represented in Sacramento, because you have a demographic that votes in state legislators and represantatives to give them an endless stream of benefits.

    Are we not broke? Is the system not broken? The Government has grown exponentially in size over the decades and now we have a monster of a Federal, State and County Government structure that threatens to collapse the whole system.

    According to an LA County Auditor’s report from 2003, Los Angeles County was paying out $172 Million dollars A MONTH for Welfare!!! The insanity of it is unbelievable and of course, you’re not going to see this in the NYT, or KNBC or any of the mainstream media that has you believing ‘everything is ok’, because it’s not and likeminded people like myself are highlighting these issues.

  9. CarolineSF on Jul 26, 2012 at 7:42 am07/26/2012 7:42 am

    • 000

    “Basic” government services are always defined as those the speaker is using at the moment, no matter how considerable.

    On a recent drive through the Central Valley, I saw many political signs that appeared to be blasting big government for not providing a more extensive water infrastructure to benefit farmers, while expressing an anti-government sentiment. In other words, they were blasting big government for not being bigger. There must be some seriously confused people in the Central Valley.

    The New York Times examined the fact that red states — where more voters claim to support limited government — consume considerably more government resources per capita than blue states. And the San Francisco Chronicle took a similar look at California counties, where the conservative locales gobble public resources per capita at a far higher rate than the liberal coastal counties (reflecting the political signs I saw in Kings and Kern counties). The individuals who benefit claim to be fiercely independent, and perhaps are so muddled that they actually believe this.

    The Times interviewed some individuals who proudly proclaim their fierce independence and asked them about the enormous amount in government services they were inevitably receiving. The interviewees became embarrassed and confused, to say the least.

    And I honestly did see a woman at a rally once carrying a sign: “Don’t let the government get its hands on my Medicare.”

    It’s a shame that people don’t think more clearly when they’re establishing their political attitudes.

  10. Regis on Jul 26, 2012 at 7:13 am07/26/2012 7:13 am

    • 000

    I’m good with the radical Libertarian label, really I am! You take a good look at what our Founding Fathers advocated in such publications as the Federalist and you don’t see them wanting big government in charge of everything. The Government is supposed to provide a basic infrastructure so that people can succeed. The Government is not supposed to feed you, clothe you (and until the Courts stepped in, Educate you!).

    Now all of our roads are in disrepair (Hello Somalia!), three California cities have declared bankruptcy within one month, you have the County of Los Angeles spending 75% plus of the Budget to maintaining a south of the border Peasant population that refuses to assimilate, but is totally comfortable reaping all of the bennies of living here nnd paying little, if nothing (and in fact, getting money back for the child credits!). Lessee, three kids each, $12K yearly at the failed model that’s called the LAUSD and that’s $36K a year.

    It’s gone too far, the money is running out and you can’t do anything about it. You can kick, scream and wail, but the money to run the huge variety of ‘social programs’ is gone. The State of California is broke, the United States Government is running a $15 trillion dollar deficit at about 100% of our GDP and you tell me to move to Somalia!

    So where’s your cure for that Gary? Raise taxes? It’s tough to raise taxes on the top 15% that pay 85% of the burden, because they’ll simply leave (and they have been!)or find some way out of it (and why not? They earned it, they should keep as much of it as they can). My outcome is going to be a lot more likely to happen than yours.

    I’m all for BASIC Government services. Not the incredible monster that it’s become, with State Government panels on Abalone, Aging, etc and ad infinitum. I don’t want to pay for a huge population of people that reproduce quickly and overwhelm the services. Let them pay for their own prenatal care, preschool, housing, school lunches, babysitting, etc, etc. If you can’t afford this, don’t have any kids. The State has NO business in this area, in my opinion.

  11. Gary Ravani on Jul 25, 2012 at 3:52 pm07/25/2012 3:52 pm

    • 000


    There are other countries, Somalia comes to mind, that are a perfect haven for radical libertarians. There is no functioning government to speak of, no one cares about anyone elses children and thousands of them die. Isn’t that just peachy? Of course, without government, infrastructure, social sevices, etc. it is a hazardess place for libertarians too. It’s just wallowing in personal liberty and you have the liberty to die from easily treated diseases.

    Sounds like your kind of place. Adios!

  12. Regis on Jul 25, 2012 at 7:36 am07/25/2012 7:36 am

    • 000

    The attitude of many of the children advocate groups is that more Government money is going to be the cure for all of the ills of society is a fallacy. All of these groups forget, that the nearly extinct taxpayer is increasingly on the hook for a wide array of programs to “help the children”, “help the poor obtain steady employment”, “help the poor with their child care”, “help the poor feed their children” and on and on and on.

    This statement says it all:

    “This report shows California is continuing to sell children short,” said Ted Lempert, President of the Oakland-based Children Now, in a written statement”. Who’s selling the children short. It’s as simple as not having kids that you can’t afford to feed, clothe or house.

    And another:
    There is no secret sauce required to improve children’s well-being. “We actually know what it takes for children to thrive,” said Casey president McCarthy, citing three key factors:

    “Building a path out of poverty by investing in simultaneously in improving parents’ economic picture” (who says I have to invest in THEIR economic picture?) and in children’s healthy development and educational success, Helping families so they can provide permanent, stable and nurturing homes (what? tapping me again?) Helping to improve communities.

    The largest obstacle is what McCarthy calls the “persistent paralysis of our current political culture.” (Democrats are eager to spend your money and Republicans are dead set against this failed Liberal experiment, show me where it’s worked so far, without the parasite killing the host?).

    Right now, the “political will for children is disaggregated,” agreed Lempert. Advocacy groups need to come out of their silos (it’s always about the children, at least until their 15 or 16 and then they can have kids and repeat the cycle endlessly!) and work together like they did to improve prenatal and infant care.

    Why should the taxpayer be on the hook for somebody elses children? Why should I pay for their pre-school? Their free lunches? Free after-school programs, WIC, Section 8 housing, SNAP and on and on.

    I’ll reiterate this again. The government war on Poverty is like all of the other domestic wars on any issue: it’s been a colossal failure and we’ve now have generations and generations of people that have gotten used to living on the dole.

    Where’s the personal responsibility for the parents? Why are they having multiple children while recieving government money? I am one for helping those who’ve fallen on hard times, but the huge amount of money spent here at the State, County and city level is unbelievable!

    Take Los Angeles County. 76% of the budget is spent managing the poor community. Health Care is 24%, Public Protection is 20% and Social Services is 23%! The particular demographic requires far more services than normal. Anaheim is a prime example of a goverment-bred powder keg that requires massive funding, just to keep it under control. See the LA County budget below.

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