A new report from the National KIDS COUNT Project shows that Texas is one of the toughest places to be a kid. The conclusion comes from crunching the numbers in health, education, economic security and the stability of families and communities.
But let’s start with the good news. Texas is making progress for kids in some areas. In education, test scores have gone up and dropout rates have gone down. Eighteen percent of high school students did not graduate on time in 2012, compared to 28 percent in 2006. Although more uninsured children live in Texas than in any other state, the child uninsured rate is much lower than it was five years ago.
Many reasons explain these steady improvements. State policies, local policies and community programs all play a role. But progress is slowing.
For a clue as to why, look at the economic well-being of Texas families. Although the state is famous for its business-friendly climate, Texas families and kids have not experienced the same economic growth. One out of four kids in Texas lives in poverty, and more kids live in poverty now than in the depths of the recession. Even worse, more kids live in high-poverty neighborhoods, where it’s more difficult to access the resources needed for upward mobility.
It’s clear that as the Texas economy grows, economic security for kids hasn’t grown in tandem. That’s because kids need the support of adults for their safety and financial stability. And the adults in their lives are struggling. More Texas kids today live in families where their parents have trouble finding secure employment than five years ago. Children live in poverty because their parents can’t find jobs that pay enough to keep them out of poverty.
The positive trends in education and health are good news, but the slowdown in progress and negative trends in economic well-being are troubling. They point to a future when our public schools and health systems will not be able to continue making progress because the economic environment is just too hard. To make Texas a kid-friendly state, we need to pay more attention to the economic quicksand that is holding families back. That means not only making sure Texas kids receive good education and health care, but also that their parents are paid a living wage, have child care and preschool options so they can work, and can get higher education and skills training without breaking the bank.