Factbook shows progress, challenges for R.I. children

Fewer Rhode Island children are dropping out of high school and more than ever have access to quality health care, but close to 20 percent of the state’s children live at or below the poverty line, according to the 2014 Factbook released Monday by Rhode Island Kids Count. More

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Factbook shows progress, challenges for R.I. children

THE 2014 FACTBOOK released Monday by Kids Count showed that a majority of Rhode Island children living in poverty are raised in single-parent households, as shown in the chart above. While the racial breakdown of impoverished children in the state showed that a majority are white, reported poverty rates within each racial group were higher for Hispanic, black, Asian and Native American children than for white children. Fourteen percent of the state’s white children live in poverty, compared with 40 percent of Hispanic children, 39 percent of black children and 54 percent of Native American children.
Posted 4/7/14

WARWICK – Fewer Rhode Island children are dropping out of high school and more than ever have access to quality health care, but close to 20 percent of the state’s children live at or below the poverty line, according to the 2014 Factbook released Monday by Rhode Island Kids Count.

The state’s four-year high school graduation rate rose to 80 percent for the class of 2013, up from 75 percent in 2009, a trend that is good news for the state’s long-term economic well-being, Kids Count Executive Director Elizabeth Burke Bryant told Providence Business News.

“There are some trends moving in the right direction for the economy and the future of our workforce,” said Bryant, who unveiled the 2014 Factbook Monday to a crowd of 500, including Statehouse leaders and the state’s congressional delegation. “The dropout rate has seen steady progress, and we want that rate to accelerate even further because we know that most of the jobs in this economy require more than a high school education.”

This year’s Factbook shows both gains tied to earlier policy initiatives – including statewide investments in full-day kindergarten and outreach efforts to keep kids in school – but continued economic stress on the state’s youngest residents.

For instance, 14 percent of Rhode Island children have at least one unemployed parent, compared with 9 percent nationwide.

Overall, 19.5 percent of the state’s children live at or below the federal poverty limit of $18,796 for a family of three. More than 8,000 children in the state live in households that earn less than half of the poverty limit, or in so-called extreme poverty.

“We’re seeing some positive trends but also the continued impact of a slow economic recovery,” Bryant said.

Other notable trends highlighted in the 170-page report include:

  • Fewer children: The state’s youth population is in decline, dropping 12 percent between 2000 and 2012 to 224,000. Rhode Island has the country’s fifth-lowest birth rate.

  • Grandparents as caregivers: Six percent of the state’s children live with a grandparent as their primary caregiver. Between 2010 and 2012, 6,400 grandparents in Rhode Island reported having financial responsibility for their grandchildren and two-thirds of those have been supporting them long-term. “That was something we had seen anecdotally and now have some hard data on the important and heroic work these grandparents are doing,” Bryant said.

  • Full-day kindergarten growth: In Rhode Island, 70 percent of children in public schools now attend full-day kindergarten, below the national rate of 76 percent, but up sharply from just 18 percent in 2000. Bryant noted that state lawmakers recently made funding available to help districts move to full-day programs.

  • Single-parent households: In 2012, 40 percent of the state’s children lived in single-parent families – up from 31 percent in 2002 – the highest rate among all six New England states and above the national average of 35 percent.

  • Racial disparities: While 14 percent of the state’s white children live in poverty, that number is 40 percent for Hispanic children, 39 percent for black children and 54 percent for those from Native American households.

  • Less smoking: Cigarette use is down sharply among teens, falling to just 8 percent of high school students in 2013, a 77 percent decrease since 1997 and the lowest level ever recorded. Half of the teens who report smoking also say they are trying to quit.

Drafted in partnership with a number of human services organizations and designed to help inform policy debate, this year’s Factbook is the 20th from Kids Count. The first, released in 1995, examined 22 issue areas, Bryant said, while this year’s report examines 70 different factors affecting children’s lives, with data on everything from child support payment collection rates to school breakfast program utilization.

“We have always been committed to providing the best data available,” Bryant said. “Every year we try to figure out what we’re not seeing and over the years we have gained a number of valuable partners to help us present an even fuller picture.”

At the release event held Monday at the Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick, Kinte Howie of Young Voices Rhode Island spoke about how best to support young people, and Jann Jackson, senior associate for policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, delivered a keynote address.

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