NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Texas Is One Of The Worst States For Kids, Survey Says

Shelley Kofler
This 4-year-old was a student in a Dallas ISD pre-Kindergarten class last spring.

An annual national report on children's well-being doesn’t have a lot of good news for Texas. The Kids Count study, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows that Texas still ranks in the bottom 10 states.

To be precise, Texas is No. 43.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The report shows that Texas improved on half of the measures that make up the rankings. Three of those are in education.

Still, Texas has a long way to go, observers say.

The study explores four categories: family income; education; health; and “family and community,” which includes children in single-parent families and teen birth rates.

The best states for kids? States in the Northeast and Midwest. Massachusetts was No. 1. Vermont was No. 2 and Iowa was No. 3. New Hampshire was No. 4, while Minnesota was No. 5.

The worst? Mainly states in the South. Mississippi was No. 50. New Mexico was No. 49. Also in the bottom five: Nevada, Louisiana and Arizona. 

Where you live matters, survey says: “A child’s chances of thriving depend not just on individual, familial and community characteristics, but also on the state in which she or he is born and raised,” the study said. “States vary considerably in their amount of wealth and other resources. State policy choices also strongly influence children’s chances for success.” The foundation hopes its annual study, published each year since 1990, raises awareness about children and help elected leaders make better decisions about the well-being of kids. 

Here's a look at the four categories:  

Economic well-being: Texas is No. 32

Economically, Texas wasn’t hit as hard as other states during the recession. In fact, it now leads the U.S. in employment growth.

Yet, in the new Kids Count report, the state ranks 32nd in the economic well-being of children. And more than a quarter of Texas kids live in poverty.

“So that’s a really interesting conundrum that we’ve seen in Texas where we actually have a very low unemployment rate, but higher poverty," said Frances Deviney, director of Kids Count at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. "And we know from research that high poverty leads to so many other negative outcomes for kids, including health and access to nutrition and access to good educational opportunities.”

Deviney said some of the report’s other findings are disconcerting. For example, almost one child in three has a parent who lacks secure employment, up from 26 percent in 2008.

Education: Texas is No. 34

Beside economic well-being, the report ranked Texas in education, health and family and community. Deviney pointed to a bright spot – education – where Texas fared better on three indicators compared to earlier years: more children are attending preschool; more eighth graders are proficient in math; and more high school students are graduating on time.  

“We know that one of our biggest hurdles is making sure we keep kids in school, that kids are doing well on their academics and reading and math," Deviney said. "And we’re seeing improvements in math, graduating on time and more kids going to pre-school. Those are all really good things for Texas, but we just still have a long way to go.”

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, said she was troubled by how poorly Texas fourth-graders fared in reading -- 72 percent are not proficient. In 2005, it was 71 percent.

“And that’s sort of against the national trend of more fourth graders proficient in reading over the last seven years or so, and so that’s something that I think is critically important,” Speer said.

Health: Texas is No. 40

When it comes to the health of children, Texas didn’t fare so well. Nationally, all four indicators used to rank the health category have improved since the recession. In Texas, just two did – child and teen deaths, and the share of children without insurance, which dropped from 18 percent in 2008 to 12 percent in 2012. Nationally though, 7 percent of children don’t have health insurance.

Family and Community: Texas is No. 47

But Texas fared even worse in the category of family and community. More Texas kids are in single-parent families in 2012 compared to 2005 – 36 percent compared to 32 percent. And more kids are living in areas with high poverty: 19 percent in 2008-2012, compared to 13 percent in 2000.

You can read the entire report here.

Take a closer look at the Texas results

Texas Profile From Kids Count

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.