(07/07/2016)
West Virginia has improved four places in the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2016 national rankings of child well-being, going from 43rd to 39th in the nation in just one year.

West Virginia now ties for third best in the nation in terms of the percent of children covered by health insurance.

However, the state continues to be in the bottom ten in the Casey Foundation's Education (46) and Health (41) domains.

"This dramatic overall improvement in just one year's time shows that, when West Virginia invests in the policies that improve kids' lives, big changes are possible," said Laura Gandee, interim executive director of West Virginia KIDS COUNT.

"Our belief that dramatic, positive changes are possible is the driving force behind KIDS COUNT's Race2Great campaign. In fact, we believe that, if West Virginia focuses on implementing four key policies over the next five years, we can make our state a top 20 place to be a kid by 2025."

The four WV KIDS COUNT Race2Great policy pillars are an Earned Income Tax Credit for working families; high-quality pre-school for all three-year-olds; a significant increase in the tobacco tax to reduce pregnancy smoking and low birth-weight babies; and statewide implementation of the state's health and sex education curriculum to reduce teen pregnancies.

Gandee added, "If advocates, communities, and policymakers join forces and focus on implementing these four simple polices, we can make West Virginia a great place for every child, very soon."

According to the 2016 KIDS COUNT® Data Book from the Annie. E. Casey Foundation, the teenagers of Generation Z - the rising cohort that follows the Millennials - broke records in education and health indicators despite growing up in the midst of the economic downturn. Comparing data between 2007/ 2008 and 2014, teen birth rates fell 40 percent, the percentage of teens who abused drugs and alcohol dropped 38 percent, and the percentage of teens not graduating on time decreased by 28 percent.

In West Virginia, the teen birth rate dropped 21 percent and the percentage of teens graduating on time increased by 17 percent.

Nonetheless, despite rising employment numbers, 22 percent of children nationally lived in poverty in 2014-the same percent as in 2013.

In West Virginia, 25 percent of kids lived in poverty. Nationally, almost one in three children live in families where no member of the household has full-time, year-round employment. In West Virginia, this number is 36 percent of children, a percentage that has increased by 13 percent since 2008.

"This generation of teenagers and young adults are coming of age in the wake of the worst economic climate in nearly 80 years, and yet they are achieving key milestones that are critical for future success," said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation.

"With more young people making smarter decisions, we must fulfill our part of the bargain, by providing them with the educational and economic opportunity that youth deserve. We urge candidates in state and national campaigns to describe in depth their proposals to help these determined young people realize their full potential."

Since 2008, the percentage of teens abusing drugs and alcohol abuse has declined by double digits in every state except Louisiana and the District of Columbia; in 11 states it fell by 40 percent or more. The teen birth rate fell by more than 20 percent since 2008 in all but one state, North Dakota, where it fell by 14 percent.

Child and teen death rates fell in all states except two, Utah and West Virginia, with a 66 percent drop in the District of Columbia. Only three states did not see a positive change in the number of high school kids not graduating on time, with Nebraska and D.C. seeing a more than 50 percent decrease.

"With rising higher education costs, stagnant wages and a flimsy social safety net, teens are less likely than their parents or grandparents to obtain economic security," continued McCarthy. "For the sake of our economy and our society, we must reverse this trend to ensure that today's youth - who will be the next generation of workers, parents and community leaders - have a successful transition to adulthood and beyond."

Key trends include gains in health insurance but stagnating poverty and racial inequity.

The 2016 Data Book, which focuses on key trends in child well-being in the post-recession years, measures child well-being in four domains: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

The rates of health insurance for all children improved by 40 percent since 2008, with some states recording increases of more than 60 percent. State health insurance covered close to an additional three million children.

African-American children were twice as likely as the average child to live in high-poverty neighborhoods and to live in single-parent families. American Indian children were twice as likely to lack health insurance coverage, and Latino children were the least likely to live with a household head who has at least a high school diploma. On a positive note, African-American children were more likely than the national average to have health insurance coverage, attend pre-school and Pre-K, and live in families where the household head had at least a high school diploma.

"Generation Z is the most diverse yet, and children of color are already the majority in 12 states. By the end of the decade, children of color will be the majority of all children in the United States," says Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy. "Our shared future depends on today's young people fulfilling their potential."

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