By most indications the economy has improved a lot over the past five years, but some Florida children aren’t reaping the benefits.
Between 2011 and 2016 the number of children living in poverty in the state decreased by nearly four percent. Still, one in five children live in poverty, and the number of children who are living in high poverty areas went up by nearly a percent, according to the latest Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“With the economic indicators, it is true that we have more jobs in the state so the unemployment rates are going down, but they’re not necessarily the kinds of jobs that would sustain a family,” said Norin Dollard, director of Florida Kids Count at the University of South Florida. “The affordable housing, while that has improved a little bit, still nearly 40 percent of Florida kids live in homes that are spending 30 percent or more of their income on their rent or their mortgage. So, it’s kind of one step forward, one step back for some of the economic indicators.”
The study shows improvements and retrogressions in kids’ well-being. It compares counties through 16 indicators in the areas of economic well-being, education, health and family and community.
Dollard says the index shows a mixed picture for Florida’s children and families. Over the past five years high school students have improved their graduation rates, but other educational indicators are stagnant.
Reading and language arts proficiency in elementary schools has not improved, and the number of 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool remains unchanged.
“There’s improvements, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Dollard said.
The report shows more children are receiving health insurance and fewer teens are consuming alcohol and drugs. However, there was no progress over the past five year in reducing childhood obesity or the number of babies born with low birthweight.
The rates of child abuse and neglect have fallen over the past five years, as have the number of children who come in contact with the juvenile justice system. However, there are more children living in single parent households, which means they rely on one income rather than two.
St. Johns was ranked as the top county in the state for child well-being and DeSoto County fared the worst. Sarasota County ranked fourth in the state, Pasco was 15th, Hillsborough was 35th and Pinellas was 45th.
The Kids Count report began including county-by-county data last year to highlight areas in which the state can better to support healthy development. Dollard hopes that the public will use this data as a call for action and demand change.
“We’re hopeful that they (the public) will take this data and talk to their politicians ... and say, for example, ‘We have universal Pre-K here in the state of Florida, yet only half of our 3- and 4-year-olds are in schools so why is that? What’s the connection there?’” Dollard said.