Utah is among the best states in the nation for children's overall well-being, according to a new national report. The 2020 KIDS COUNT Data Book released this week shows that Utah improved in almost all of the ranked categories, including the number of children in poverty, fourth-grade reading proficiency, and the number of uninsured children.
"They used 16 indicators in the Data Book, and we pretty much improved everywhere except for low birth-weight babies and the percentage of children who are overweight or obese. So, we actually are doing fairly well compared to the rest of the nation," said Terry Haven, with Utah Voices for Children.
According to Haven, this means the state has moved to fourth place from seventh last year.
Nationally, the Data Book shows improvement on 11 indicators in the Kids Count Index; three stayed the same and two worsened. Ahead of Utah, Massachusetts ranked first, New Hampshire second and Minnesota third – with Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico at 48th, 49th and 50th.
Haven said the high rankings came even though Utah lawmakers have cut the budget for social services in recent years. She added there is room for improvement in some categories – and these figures were compiled before the pandemic and its economic fallout.
"There are still some areas that we could work on," Haven said. "We're still below the nation in the percentage of children without health insurance, and we're still below the nation in the percentage of young kids who aren't in school. But we have improved in both those indicators and so, that's good."
For 2020, the Data Book doesn't include statistics on teen use of drugs or alcohol but added a category on obesity. Haven said with the coronavirus crisis, there is concern that increased unemployment and kids being sent home from school could skew future data.
"So, these data go through 2018; they're always a couple of years behind," Haven said. "And that's going to be an issue as we look at what's happening with COVID and how that's affecting some of our children and what's going on with them, especially with this last round of budget cuts."
The Kids Count Data Book has been compiled annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation since 1990.