Time for States to Step Up for Kids

July 26, 2012

A closer look at how states invest in children, families, workforces.

This year’s KIDS COUNT Data Book tells me that kids and families are doing their part but we as a nation are not doing ours.

To wit: Kids are doing better in school but we as a nation have failed to protect families from the effects of high unemployment and a winner-take-all economy that is stifling upward mobility. In most states, children’s economic well-being continued to decline. 

Here’s another lesson – states matter. Take a look at the KIDS COUNT interactive data wheel (or click the image below to take it for a spin) – the deeper the colors, the higher the state ranking on key indicators of well-being. The Northeast and Midwest states tend to have much deeper colors than the south, with the exception of Virginia and Maryland. If you want to know how your state is doing, just roll your cursor on your piece of the pie.

Check out the colors and you'll see what I am worried about:a widening gap between have and have-not states.

The Obama Administration recently announcement a new waiver regime for TANF, the primary public assistance program for low-income families. Add to this the Supreme Court’s decision that the new health care law cannot force states to expand Medicaid and the Obama Administration’s use of state waivers for educational reforms, and you start to get the sense that we’re moving toward a choose-your-own-adventure model of state supports. This could mean that the health, education and well-being of children and families depends largely on whether they live in Mississippi or Massachusetts, California or Texas.

Over the next decade, we will be witness to a great experiment, one with serious consequences for the children and families in each state.

We will see, for example, whether spending-averse states find that austerity brings better times or more hardship. We’ll see if states that invest in the education and welfare of their families reap the rewards of a more skilled labor force or find their resources overtaxed. In ten years, we’ll see which states have made policy choices that make a big difference in the average family’s quality of life.

From the evidence we have so far, the stark differences in the KIDS COUNT Data Chart tell me that it is the states that find ways to invest in their children that will end up with healthier families and a better-trained workforce – the key to future prosperity.

Jan Richter is Editor emeritus for the SparkAction SparkUpdate. She was previously Outreach Specialist for Connect for Kids. Reach her at jan[at]sparkaction.org.



Does the title of this blog bring to mind a certain national event taking place on Thursday, September 20? That's not accidental. The annual Step Up for Kids events focus on increasing investments in children and young people. Check it out.

Jan Richter