Tennessee shows improvement year-over-year, in past decade in Kids Count survey

By KATE COIL
TML
Communications
Specialist

While conditions for children in Tennessee have made gains in the past year, the 2020 edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count survey indicates the state still has significant room for improvement.
Published every year since 1990, the annual report ranked Tennessee 39 out of 50 states for 2020, an improvement over Tennessee’s ranking in the bottom 10 states Tennessee earned a decade ago.
The report ranks states on overall child well-being based on four categories: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
Data from the 2020 report was also compared to data from the 2010 report to chart changes over the decade. All data for the 2020 report was gathered in 2019 with officials saying they expect next year’s report to reflect the ongoing reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Richard Kennedy, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY), noted this year’s report showed gains in numerous areas over last year’s report as well as over its results a decade ago.
“While changes in the way the data sets are collected limit our ability to compare this year’s ranking to older ones, TCCY is pleased Tennessee now ranks better than it did in the early days of its participation in KIDS COUNT when the state ranking was closer to the bottom,” Kennedy said. “Tennessee’s school children are making gains. Continued investments in education, especially to address the racial and ethnic disparities that remain, are key to the state’s future prosperity.”
Tennessee’s 39th overall ranking was largely buoyed by its ranking of 29 out of 50 in terms of education. In the survey’s other three categories, Tennessee ranked 42 out of 50 for family and community, 43 out of 50 in terms of children’s economic well-being, and 48 out of 50 in terms of children’s healthcare.
Each category ranking is based on a series of statistics and metrics relating to children in the state. In terms of education, states were ranked on the percentage of children in pre-K, fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade math, and the percentage of high school students who graduate on time.
Nearly two-thirds – 61% - of Tennessee three and four-year-olds are enrolled in a pre-K program, the only one of the state’s education metrics to have declined in the past decade. Only 10% of the state’s high schools are not graduating on time with their classmates, an improvement over the 14% reported a decade ago.
Additionally, the state’s reading and math scores improved over previous years with 65% of students proficient in fourth-grade reading and 69% proficient in eighth-grade math.
While these statistics were lower than reported in the 2009-2010, they are an improvement over the results of more recent years.
States were ranked based on categories including percentage of children in single-parent households, the educational status of heads of households, how many children live in high-poverty areas, and teen births to determine their overall family and community score.
Tennessee lost a little ground in family and community context, falling to 42nd from 39th last year. The survey found that 31% - roughly 534,000 – of children in Tennessee live in a single-parent household while 12% - about 184,000 children – live in a household where the head of household does not hold a high school diploma or equivalency certificate. The state also found that 12% of children in the state live in areas of high poverty.
The state’s teen birth rate was approximately 5,258 teen pregnancies per every 1,000, meaning the state’s teen birth rate dropped from 43 per 1,000 in 2010 to 25 per 1,000 in 2018. However, rates in other states decreased at a faster rate, leaving Tennessee ranked 41 in teen births overall.
While the state saw a year-over-year dip in family and community scores, the state generally improved its score when comparing 2020 to 2010. The number of children in single-parent homes was the only category in which Tennessee children were worse off in 2020 than in 2010.
The state dropped a bit across all measures in the economic well-being domain compared to last year, moving to 43rd from 32nd. Family economic challenges continue to be a problem for the state, with more than one in five children living in poverty. However, Tennessee has seen improvement in all of the economic well-being measures compared to 2010 results.
The state’s 43 out of 50 ranking in economic well-being was determined based on factors including the number and percentage of children in poverty, the number and percentage of children whose parents lack employment, children living in cost-burdened housing, and the number of teens not in school or working.
Approximately 22% (331,000) of children in Tennessee were living in poverty in 2019, while 9% of Tennessee teens were not in school or employed. The report found that 29% of children have a parent who lacks employment and 29% of children live in housing where the rent or mortgage payment takes up more than a third of their parents’ income.
Tennessee had recorded a score of 33 on healthcare in 2019, dropping to 48 this year to make healthcare the state‘s lowest scoring category. The survey ranked healthcare based on metrics including the low birth-weight babies, number of children without healthcare, child and teen deaths, and child and teen obesity.
The survey found that 9.3% of Tennessee infants born in 2019 were underweight, above the national average of 8.3% and one of the top ten highest rates in the country.
Meanwhile, 37% percent of its children and teens are categorized as obese or morbidly overweight. The state also has approximately 83,000 children without access to some form of health insurance. The report also found the state recorded 549 child deaths per 100,000 children.
When compared to results reported in 2010, Tennessee has improved in the number of children without healthcare and decreased its number of overweight teens and children in the past decade. However, the number of low birth-weight children and amount of child and teen deaths has gotten worse since 2010.
Kennedy said the report needs to be utilized by policymakers to reflect on what improvements can be made for Tennessee’s children, especially during the current health crisis.
“Tennessee has been a leader in good public policy,” he said. “With multiple challenges facing children and families during the Covid-19 pandemic, this is a moment for Tennessee to increase investments to support families rather than reduce them.”
The overall report also indicated that states in certain regions of the country fare better than others with most of the top-ranking states located in New England and majority of the lowest-ranking states located in Appalachia, the Southeast, and Southwest.
“National data mask a great deal of state and regional variations in child well-being,” the report states. “A child’s chances of thriving depend not only on individual, family and community characteristics but also on the state in which she or he is born and raised. States vary considerably in their wealth and other resources. Policy choices and investments by state officials and lawmakers also strongly influence children’s chances for success.”