Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count study results are mixed

Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count study results are mixed

June 24th, 2013 by Judy Walton in Local Regional News

HAMILTON COUNTY

Children in poverty

2005/06: 20 percent

2010/11: 24.7 percent

Teen births/1,000

2005/06: 37.6

2010/11: 16.7

Free-reduced school lunch

2005/06: 39.8 percent

2010/11: 47.3 percent

Food stamp recipients

2005/06: 12.5 percent

2010/11: 15 percent

Fair market rent

2005/06: $748

2010/11: $884

Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation's local reporting partners

TENNESSEE

CATEGORY 2005/6 2010/11

Children in poverty // 21 // 26

In single-parent families // 35 // 37

Low birthweight // 9.5 // 9

Teen births per 1,000 // 55 // 43

Teens drug/alcohol abuse 8 // 7

Not graduating on time 29 // 20

Overall rank: 39

2013 rank by domain:

Economic well-being: 37

Education: 42

Health: 33

Family/community: 37

GEORGIA

CATEGORY 2005/6 2010/11

Children in poverty // // 20 // 26

In single-parent families // 35 // 38

Low birthweight // 9.5 // 9.7

Teen births per 1,000 // 53 // 41

Teens drug/alcohol abuse 7 // 6

Not graduating on time 38 // 34

Overall rank: 43

2013 rank by domain:

Economic well-being: 43

Education: 38

Health: 40

Family/community: 40

ALABAMA

CATEGORY 2005/6 2010/11

Children in poverty // 25 // 28

In single-parent families // 37 // 39

Low birthweight // 10.7 // 10.3

Teen births per 1,000 // 50 // 44

Teens drug/alcohol abuse // 7 // 6

Not graduating on time // 34 // 28

Overall rank: 44

2013 rank by domain

Economic well-being: 40

Education: 44

Health: 35

Family/community: 44

Even though child poverty rates keep climbing in the wake of the Great Recession, there are some bright spots for the nation's youth in health and educational achievement, an annual study of child well-being shows.

Close to home, the bright spot is a full-blown spotlight on a dramatic, 66 percent fall in births to Hamilton County teens between 2006 and 2010, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count study.

"That is great news on so many fronts," Julie Baumgardner, executive director of Chattanooga's First Things First, said Friday. "For these young people to have an opportunity to truly experience childhood and the teenage years, to graduate high school without being a teen parent -- I think that's just incredible progress for this community."

Both the Baltimore-based Casey Foundation and First Things First are nonprofits whose mission is strengthening families.

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy for the Casey Foundation, said the decline in teen births is a national trend, though it's less steep across the country than in Hamilton County.

Speer said the national teen birth rate of 55 per 1,000 girls in 2005 fell to 43 per 1,000 in 2010. The numbers come from U.S. census figures, she said.

"It really is a success story in terms of what we know about the best ways to prevent teen pregnancy, but there's also the fact that for many young women, the idea of having a birth in the teen years is not something they want to do," Speer said.

The overall picture in the 2013 Kids Count report is "mixed -- it's not all bad news and not all good news," she said.

In education, the trend generally was up in categories ranging from preschool attendance to high school graduation rates, she said. In health, fewer newborns have low birth weight, fewer children don't have health insurance, fewer teens are abusing alcohol or drugs.

But "the bad news is we are still not where we were before the recession in terms of economic well-being in the U.S.," Speer said.

Stock market gains and higher sales prices for houses don't mean anything to families living paycheck to paycheck in rental housing or apartments.

Speer said 23 percent of kids now live below the poverty line, compared to 19 percent in 2005. Those numbers track in the tri-state region, where the percentage of children in poverty went up more than 4 percentage points in Alabama, almost 7 percentage points in Georgia and 3 percentage points in Tennessee.

A third of American children live with parents who don't have full-time jobs, and 40 percent live in homes where more than one-third of the household income goes for rent or mortgage payments.

Those payments continue to rise, she said, while wages are stagnant.

"There's no money for child care, for health insurance premiums ... it's not not going out to eat, it's whether you do eat," Speer said.

At First Things First, Baumgardner credited an array of people and programs for helping more teens make choices that expand rather than limit their future opportunities.

"These are not just programs that are saying, 'Don't have babies.' These programs are focusing on these kids and saying, 'You have a future.' If you get involved in getting somebody pregnant or getting pregnant and having a baby, a lot of these opportunities are not going to be available to you in the same way," Baumgardner said.

"Nobody can take all of the credit, but it really does go to show that a lot of people have put time, energy and effort into helping teens in this community. ... We need to keep on keeping on what we're doing. We can't let up."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@times freepress.com or 423-757-6416.