Posted 7:30 a.m. | Updated 6:45 p.m.
A new national health ranking finds Colorado inched up when it comes to the well-being of children, and the number of kids in poverty, but it’s still in the middle of the pack because of poor marks on children’s health and mortality.
The 2015 Kids Count Data Book, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranks Colorado 21st for child well-being. That’s up one spot from last year.
The report’s authors say better economic conditions helped drive the improved ranking, especially by lowering the percentage of kids living in poverty. The percentage of teens not working or not in school also dropped.
Here’s what else stands out in the report:
The key word is disparities. The Annie E. Casey Foundation tracks a variety of indicators. Overall, those measures show Colorado kids are doing better than a few years ago, when the economy tanked. As far as economic well being, Colorado ranked 13th for children. But, 17 percent, more than 200,000 children, are living in poverty. But there’s a serious and persistent gap.
“Colorado really is not average," said Sarah Hughes, who is the research director with the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
"We have a lot of kids in our state that are doing really, really well and a lot of kids in our state that are really struggling in a lot of areas," Hughes said. "So, those two kinds of extremes kind of balance out there to give us that average ranking, but I think it can be kind of misleading.”
How this dovetails with our reporting on Colorado children living in poverty:
We’ve talked to many parents who’ve struggled to find a job, and this report says 330,000 kids in the state are in a family like that. That’s more than a quarter of Colorado kids, and that’s slightly worse than five years ago. Also, nearly a third of Colorado children live in single-parent families, a figure that has also worsened since 2008. Another challenge is high housing costs, especially along the Front Range.
One category where Colorado kids ranked in the top ten is education:
The Kids Count report puts Colorado in ninth place. We saw improved rankings when it comes to children in preschool, reading proficiency for fourth graders, math proficiency in eighth graders and high school graduation rates. In each of those categories, Colorado kids fared better than the national average. Still, the scores need to be taken with a grain of salt. Almost 60 percent of Colorado fourth graders are not proficient in reading. That’s better than five years ago, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Health rankings came in as Colorado’s worst category:
This is sort of a “yes, but” category. Yes, it was the worst category. Colorado came in 44th, but the devil is truly in the details here.
The report looked at low birthweight babies, children without health insurance, child and teen deaths and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs. In each of those areas, Colorado saw worse marks than the national average.
But our numbers are somewhat skewed by the low birthweight babies. That category is always higher than elsewhere because of Colorado’s higher elevation. In general, there are signs of improvement in health.
“We’ve made tremendous strides toward decreasing the percent of uninsured kids in our state; we’ve seen an improvement in the percent of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs," said Sarah Hughes, with the Colorado Children’s Campaign. "So even though we rank pretty low in health we have made significant progress in this area over the last few years.”
With the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — now in effect, in the coming years experts expect to see a further decline in the uninsured rate. And we’ll also find out if that health coverage helps improve the health of people living in poverty.