CA Ranks 35th in Child Well-Being; High Housing Costs Partly to Blame

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
A new report shows 21% of California children live in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma, an improvement of 5% over 2010. Photo Credit: Pixabay

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A new report ranks California 35th in the nation for overall child well-being – a slight improvement over last year. The 2019 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed the state has made great strides in health but still lags in economic well-being.

Kelly Hardy, senior managing director of health policy with the nonprofit Children Now, said 18% of California’s children – about 1.6 million kids – live in poverty. And 46% live in households with a high housing burden.

“That’s partly due to the high cost of housing in California that many families with children are spending a lot of their income on housing and are living below the poverty line,” Hardy said.

The state has made huge progress in getting kids insured – 97% of children in the state are covered. Several years ago, California opened up Medi-Cal to undocumented children and the new budget is expected to extend eligibility to 19-25 year-olds, regardless of immigration status. That should improve measures of maternal health.

On education, the state has made gains in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math proficiency but still ranks 36th overall.

The data showed California’s 9 million children are very diverse: 52% are Latino, 28% are white, 13% are Asian or Pacific Islander and 6% are black. Leslie Boissiere, vice president for external affairs with the Casey Foundation, said strategic investments in things such as high-quality preschool and affordable child care would boost the prospects for many children from low-income neighborhoods of color.

“When we look at policies that really focus on the basic needs of families and ensuring that everyone has access to opportunity, then we can see a reduction in the disparities and inequities that we see for kids of color,” Boissiere said.

The report also warned that any undercount in the 2020 census would hit California hard. The report estimated as many as 750,000 California kids could be missed, costing the state billions of dollars for federal programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, SNAP and Head Start.