Monday, July 9, 2018

Kids Count – or Do They in Texas? (Part II)

The Children Are Watching                                                    

In an earlier blog I stated that the cruel treatment of immigrant children being separated from their families at our southern border resides in our government’s sense that these are “other people’s children,” not ours to take care of, show compassion to, or be responsible for.  I said surely if we understood the humanity of these very young children, we would never take them far away from their parents, would not deny their parents an asylum hearing for fleeing known harms threatening their children.  Surely if we saw them as “all our children,” we would show compassion, be smart and kind in our treatment of these traumatized arrivals, and in respecting their humanity affirm our own.

Turns out I was wrong.  Two new studies show our country doesn’t do too well by its own children.  Too many are poor.  Too many lack access to health care.  Too many fail to graduate high school.  And too many lack safe housing and basic services essential for children to thrive.

I previously highlighted the new report by the UnitedNations on extreme poverty worldwide.  It shows the very wealthy US with as many as one-fifth (20%) of its children living in poverty.  Many in extreme poverty – the measure of which is a mere $2.00/day.  As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof reminds us in reporting out the UN study, the US regularly separates American children from families through mass incarceration and over-use of the foster system, both of which disproportionately to lasting harm to African American families and children.  

So what about Texas? The nation and the world have their eyes on Texas as the detention tents, internment camps and “baby jails” are constructed along our southern border for migrant families seeking safety for their families.   If the cameras turned away from the border to scan the communities where “our” children live, what would they see?

The just-released Kids Count 2018 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation has the numbers and they are not good.    Texas, one of the richest states in the US and one of the richest economies in the world, ranks among the lowest 10 states in the welfare of its children.   The facts are shameful, the need for action never more urgent.  Here is a summary of this year’s Kids Count Texas from the Center for Public Policy Priorities:

Texas Ranks 43rd in Latest National Rankings of Child Well-Being
Reflecting overall trends in the United States, Texas child poverty and health insurance rates have improved. An estimated 22 percent of Texas children lived in poverty in 2016, down from 23 percent in 2015. Despite these gains, Texas still lags behind other states, ranking 37th in child poverty and 48th in the percent of children without health insurance.
The national KIDS COUNT Data Book annually ranks each state in four core areas of child well- being: health, education, economic well-being and family and community. Texas lags behind most states in child well-being, and state legislators need to enact policies to improve child outcomes. Texas ranks:
  • 35th in economic well-being. Although the number of children in poverty has decreased, more than 1.6 million Texas kids still live in poverty. About 27 percent of kids in Texas live in families where no member of the household has full-time, year-round employment.
  • 32nd in education. Data in the report confirm that Texas needs to do more to support education. A majority of Texas kids lack the reading and math skills they need to pursue higher education. Texas has a better on-time graduation rate than the U.S. average. 11 percent of Texas high schoolers did not graduate on time in the 2015-16 school year compared to 16 percent of students nationally. However, challenges in college and career readiness remain. Texas struggles to help its children improve in reading and math. Seventy-one percent of Texas fourth-graders scored below proficient in reading levels, and 67 percent of Texas eighth-graders scored below proficient in math levels.
  • 47th in the family and community domain. The Data Book refers to nurturing families and supportive communities as "family and community." Although the numbers are declining, 17 percent of Texas kids still live in high-poverty areas. An estimated 20 percent (almost 1.5 million) of kids in Texas live with a parent who lacks a high school diploma, down from 23 percent in 2012.
41st in health. Texas child health insurance rates have improved since 2010, but still rank third to last in the United States. Lawmakers at the federal and state levels must protect and expand insurance access. Recent improvements are largely the result of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which increased kids' access to critical physical and mental health care and strengthened families’ financial security by reducing unexpected medical expenses. Threats to cut the popular Children's Health Insurance Program in 2017 and continued attacks on the ACA are not in line with keeping kids healthy.
CPPP has actively engaged in the Texas Public School Finance Commission, which has been meeting this year, and urges that group to recommend boosted public school investment for Texas children.
“This report confirms that state leaders need to take more aggressive steps to improve the lives of millions of children and families, and that includes ensuring an accurate census," said Kristie Tingle, a research analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. "Texas demographics — our large immigrant population and diverse overall population — have long made it a major challenge to get an accurate, full count of residents, and that challenge could be even larger in 2020 because of changes to the census."

Three important observations emerge from these statistics:

1)    As the Center for Public Policy Priorities points out, all of these conditions are remediable.  More Texas children have access to health care because of the Affordable Care Act – a federal initiative resisted by most Texas politicians but vital to our children. 

2)    These problems can be solved with action, with smart legislation, with public activism that pushes our Texas elected officials to act on behalf of children.  They need to lead out on expanding access to affordable health care for families and on protecting and expanding funding for CHIP (the federal Children’s Health Insurance).

3)    Solving these problems will require an accurate count of all the children in Texas.  The upcoming 2020 census threatens to leave children out if the census is used as a tool of immigration policing or other restrictive purposes.  It may undercount rural children, the high number of children living in poverty.  Federal funding, legislative representation and many other policy imperatives depend on an accurate count. 

We have been horrified as the stories emerge about parents who have no idea where their children are and children, most of them not speaking English and many even too young to talk, having no idea where their parents are, who these strangers are keeping them captive, and where they are.  The slow, uncaring response from the White House and government officials has made many question whether this is even America any more.  CPPP reminds us that knowing who the children are and where they are is equally critical if we as Texans are to assure all children thrive.  That’s why something as seemingly arcane as the 2020 census becomes crucial.  Here is more from CPPP on that urgency:

Possible 2020 census undercount could worsen conditions for Texas kids
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas children cannot afford to have an inaccurate census count, as the data would have major consequences for their health, wellness, education and economic opportunity. Texas ranks 43rd in child well-being – one of the 10 worst states for kids – though there are a few bright spots, including a decrease in the number of uninsured Texas children, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report confirms challenges for Texas kids and highlights the critical role of the upcoming 2020 census. Billions of dollars in federal aid to states rely on the accuracy of the census, including significant support for children's health care, housing and food programs.
“We have to count all the children and families in Texas, because we can't support people we don’t know are here,” said Ann Beeson, CEO of the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP). “The data show us that Texas children have many challenges, and we need an accurate census to advance proven policy solutions that make this the best state for kids.”
Census surveys via internet may also not pick up lower-income populations without internet access. In Texas, 30 percent of young children under the age of five live in hard to count census tracts. These 582,000 children are at risk of being undercounted in the upcoming 2020 census, and federally funded programs that have driven youth success are in jeopardy.
CPPP offers the following recommendations to achieve a more accurate census:
  • Identify the ‘hard to count’ communities. Community leaders and elected officials should learn about Texas’ “hard to count” communities and begin reaching out to them now. Visit to find areas of Texas that are the hardest to count.
  • Conduct outreach across Texas. State and local governments and community organizations need to ensure that all communities are counted. Create statewide and local 2020 census “complete count” committees.
  • Speak to your local officials. All Texans can encourage their city and county officials to work with library systems, schools or other locations that might be helpful in encouraging residents to participate in the census. Texans can call their members of Congress and encourage them to maximize the Census Bureau’s capacity. Federal lawmakers should fully fund the census outreach effort,

The only reason for Texas children not to thrive is if we take these dire statistics as inevitable rather than as inspirations for concerted, collective action. The children of Texas are watching.

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