By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
The annual Kids Count County Data Book on children’s well-being ranks Kentucky 37th in the nation for the overall condition of its children. Since last year, the state improved in 10 of the 17 categories, including fewer teen pregnancies and fewer women smoking during pregnancy. But the data show great disparities between counties and among children of color.
This year’s 2021 County Data Book
focuses on disparities “caused by historic and systemic issues connected to the color of a kid’s skin,” many of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates
, said in an online news conference.
“All kids face a long climb in their journey to adulthood, but kids of color have to climb a steeper hill due to longstanding inequities and specific barriers based on their skin color or country of origin,” Brooks said in a news release. “When we invest in what all children need and tailor additional supports for children who face greater barriers, each Kentucky kid will have a brighter future.”
As an example, Brooks pointed to the disparities that exist around poverty.
While the number of children in Kentucky in poverty has decreased, children in cities are more likely to be in poverty than those in rural areas, and Latinx and Black children are also more likely to live in poverty.
Brooks said the county-level poverty data in the report provides an opportunity for policymakers in Frankfort and Washington to take action on policies that impact poverty, such as child-care cost and accessibility, child tax credits and payday lenders, which he said “locate like cockroaches in areas of color in those urban centers.”
And it’s not just about poor kids, Brooks said: “I have long presented the hypothesis, that unless and until we address childhood poverty, nothing else is going to move. That is the catalyst. It affects health outcomes; it affects education achievement; it affects family safety.”
In 2019, 20.9% of Kentucky’s children lived below the federal poverty level, down from 25.9% in 2014. Oldham County had the lowest share of children in poverty, 4.8%, and Lee County had the highest, 44.3%. It is among 22 of the state’s 120 counties in which more than one-third of children live below the poverty line, which in 2019 was $25,750 for a family of four.
“With the cost of housing, food and transportation, most families need an income of at least twice the official poverty level to cover their basic needs,” the report says.
It shows that poverty rates are much higher for Black (32%) and Latinx (30%) children and children of two or more races (33%) than white children (19%). Nearly one in four Kentuckians are children.
Another indicator of poverty is how much a family’s income goes toward rent. In Kentucky, nearly half of renters, 45%, spent at least 30% of their income on rent and utilities, a phenomenon exacerbated by the pandemic. Thirty-seven of the state’s 120 counties either stayed the same or got worse on this indicator.
The annual Kentucky Kids Count County Data Book
, released Nov. 10 by
Kentucky Youth Advocates
and the Kentucky State Data Center
at the University of Louisville
is part of the 31st annual release of Kids Count, a national initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation
to track the status of children in the United States.
The Data Book provides information on the overall well-being of children in each county, through 17 measures in four areas: economic security, education, family and community and health.
Overall, Kentucky saw improvements in 10 of the 17 indicators and did worse on four. Three of the indicators did not have baseline data for a year-to-year comparison.
Statewide, fewer babies were born to mothers who reported smoking at any point during pregnancy in Kentucky, and fewer Kentucky teens are having babies; but those rates vary widely by county.
Statewide, 16.7% of Kentucky’s babies were born to women who reported smoking during pregnancy in 2017-19, down from 19.8% in 2012-14. Still, 19 counties saw an increase in this rate since 2012-14.
Six counties (Warren, Daviess, Oldham, Jefferson, Fayette and Hancock) had smoking-in-pregnancy rates of 10% or less, and 13 had rates of 30% or more, all in Eastern Kentucky: Menifee, Lee, Harlan, Elliott, Jackson, Breathitt, Wolfe, Bell, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Owsley and Martin, the only county above 40%.
Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of health problems for developing babies, including birth before full term, low birthweight, and birth defects of the mouth and lip. Smoking during and after pregnancy also increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kentucky continues to make improvements when it comes to teen births, which declined to 26.3 per 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2017-19, from 37.7 births in 2012-14. But the rate is still much higher than the national rate
of 16.7 per 1,000.
There is a great difference among counties, ranging from a low of 7.1 teen births per 1,000 in Oldham County to a high of 62.3 in Powell County.
Nine counties had higher teen-birth rates in 2017-19 than they did in 2012-14: Lewis, 54.4 births per 1,000; Harrison, 43.5; Monroe, 43.3; Ballard, 41.4; LaRue, 37.8; Breckinridge 32.4; Edmonson, 32.2; Bourbon, 32.1; and Hickman, 28.9.
The number of low-birthweight babies in Kentucky increased a bit, to 8.8% in 2017-19 from 8.7% between 2012-14. A low-birthweight baby is defined as less than 5.5 pounds.
The March of Dimes says
babies born with low birthweight are more likely to have certain health conditions later in life, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, intellectual and developmental disabilities, metabolic syndrome and obesity.
More than half of the state’s counties saw an increase in low-birthweight babies since 2012-14. The rates varied from a low of 4.3% in Spencer County to a high of 13.1% in Union County.
Babies born to Black mothers were most likely to have low birthweight, though that varied by community. In rural areas, Black mothers had 16.6 low-birthweight babies per 100 births, compared to 8.7 for white mothers and 6.4 for Latinx mothers.
“Strengthening access to quality health coverage before, during, and after pregnancy and closing gaps in use of programs like the HANDS home-visiting program would reduce disparities in critical birth outcomes for Black babies and mothers,” says the report.
The report provides information on racial and ethnic disparities in each of the 17 indicators, and offers solutions for each category in hopes that the newly created Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity, made up of a group of bipartisan lawmakers and citizen members, will study and consider them.
“We must acknowledge the racial and class disparities and address them head on,” said Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville. “We should not equivocate in any way.”
Other key findings about Kentucky’s children in the report include:
- Even though 90% of Kentucky’s high school students are graduating on time, compared to five years ago, 87 of Kentucky’s 167 school districts got worse on this indicator. Further, only 46% of Kentucky’s high-school graduates were deemed academically ready for college.
- Another gap is health-insurance coverage for the state’s Latinx children, which is 91%, compared to 97% for Black children and 96% for white children. Overall, 95.7% of the state’s children had health insurance, including Medicaid, in 2019.
- The most recent data shows that only 37% of Kentucky children in foster care reunify with their parent or primary caretaker, and this rate has dropped from about five years ago.
- The number of children in Kentucky’s foster-care system increased to 53.7 per 1,000 children ages 0-17, from 39.2 in 2013-15.
- Black parents are incarcerated at substantially higher rates than parents of other races in all Kentucky counties, with the greatest disparity in suburban counties, where 16.1 Black parents are in state custody per 1,000 adults, compared to 2.8 per 1,000 adults for white parents.
Because of the pandemic, this year’s data book is not able to provide comprehensive data for the most recent year for kindergarten readiness, fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math scores. Instead, the report looked at the proportion of public-school students experiencing homelessness (3%), students with individualized education plans due to a disability (16%), and out-of-school suspension rates (9.6 suspensions for every 100 enrolled student).
The report was made possible with support from the Casey foundation and other sponsors, including including Charter Communications, Louisville’s Kosair Charities and Passport Health Plan by Molina Healthcare.
The Kids Count Data Center
provides easy access to county and school district data for about 100 indicators and allows the user to rank states, counties and school districts; to create customized profiles of the data; to generate customized maps; and to embed maps and graphs in websites or blogs. Click here
to see your county’s profile.