Zirpoli: The state of our children: Report shows they are growing more diverse, healthier, struggling in reading and math

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, based in Baltimore, publishes an annual report on the state of our nation’s children each summer covering national and state-by-state data looking at economic well-being, education, and health. The 30th edition of the “Data Book” was recently released.

The first edition of this report was published in 1990 and the recent report covers 2017 data. It is interesting to compare how things have changed for the nation’s children over the last 27 years. To begin with, there are a lot more children in America now than in 1990 — 74 million compared to 64 million. Texas, Florida, and California accounted for half the total growth of children since 1990.


Our nation’s children look different than they did in 1990. In 1990, 69 percent of them were White. By 2017, this has decreased to 53 percent. Also, 18 million American children are immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants. In fact, 26 percent of our nation’s children have at least one immigrant parent; double since 1990. The states with the largest growth of immigrant families since 1990 were North Carolina, Tennessee, Nebraska, and Arkansas.

Latino children represent 25 percent of American children, up from 12 percent in 1990. In California, New Mexico, and Texas, the majority of children are now or will soon be the majority of children in those states. Southern states have seen the largest growth of Latino children. For example, Latino children made up just 1 percent of children in North Carolina in 1990 but 16 percent in 2017. The number of Asian-American children doubled from 3 percent in 1990 to 6 percent in 2017. The percentages of African-American and American Indian children remained the same at 15 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

Two variables have had a significant impact on the health of American children since 1990. The Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act, including the expansion of Medicaid coverage provided in many states, has significantly increased the number of American children with health care insurance. The benefits have been measurable. In 2010, 8 percent of American children were without health insurance. In 2017, only 5 percent of children did not have health insurance. In Massachusetts, 99 percent of children have health insurance. They are followed by Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont with 98 percent of children covered. Texas has the nation’s worse record of coverage for children (89 percent), followed by Alaska (90 percent) and Wyoming (90 percent).

A second measure on the success of the Affordable Care Act is the decrease in teen births. This measure has decreased from 34 per 1,000 teens in 2010 to 19 per 1,000 teens in 2017. This decrease is due to the availability of free birth control coverage and allowing young adults to stay under their parents’ health care plan, as provided by The Affordable Health Care Act.

Child poverty in the U.S. has decreased from 22 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2017. New Hampshire has the lowest level of child poverty at 10 percent and Louisiana has the highest rate at 28 percent. Maryland’s child poverty rate is about 12.5 percent.

In their overall well-being measures, the Casey Foundation ranks, in order, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, and Minnesota as the top four states for children. The worst performing states were New Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Nevada. Maryland is ranked 14 in the nation.

Specifically, in educational opportunities for children, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, had the highest ratings. New Mexico, Alaska, Louisiana, and Nevada have the lowest. Maryland was ranked 11 in the nation on this variable.

Regarding preschool educational opportunities, Connecticut had the best record for getting 3 and 4-year-olds into preschool programs at 65 percent, while North Dakota has the lowest number of children in preschool programs at 31 percent. Nationally, about 48 percent of children are enrolled in preschool programs, and in Maryland, 50 percent of 3 and 4-year-olds were in preschool programs.

The poor preschool numbers may be one reason why our nation’s children are not doing well in reading or math. Only 35 percent of fourth-grade students in America are proficient readers and 33 percent of eighth-grade students are proficient in math. Massachusetts students had the best reading and math scores (51 and 50 percent proficient, respectively). New Mexico had the worse Reading proficiency score (25 percent) and Louisiana had the worse math proficiency score (19 percent). Maryland’s proficiency scores were 50 percent for Reading and 33 percent for Math.

The Casey Foundation annual report on the well-being of our nation’s children allow us to measure our success and see where we need to improve. It also allows us to look at what is working in individual states, and to question why children are doing well in some states but so poorly in others.

Tom Zirpoli, program coordinator of the human services management graduate program at McDaniel College, writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at