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June 29, 2017

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2017 Kids Count report on Nevada is a mixed bag

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The economic conditions of Nevada households with children continue to improve following the Great Recession, but the overall well-being of kids still lags far below the national average, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Nevada ranked 47th for overall child well-being in the 2017 Kids Count Data Book released today, maintaining the position it held last year. Only Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi ranked worse in both years.

On the flip side, New Hampshire was at the top for overall child well-being. Massachusetts, Vermont, Minnesota and Iowa rounded out the top five.

For its annual rankings, Kids Count focuses on 16 indicators across four major categories — economics, education, family and community, and health. The specific measures include fourth grade reading proficiency, health insurance coverage and single-parent households.

Nevada has seen some improvements when compared against itself. In 12 of the 16 measures, the 2015 numbers analyzed improved from previous years. A few findings about the Silver State:

• 35 percent of children in 2015 were living in households with a high housing cost burden. That’s down from 47 percent of children in 2010 but higher than the national average of 33 percent.

• 21 percent of children in 2015 were living in poverty — the same as the national average. In 2010, 22 percent of children were living in poverty.

• 74 percent of eighth-graders in 2015 were not proficient in math. In 2009, 75 percent were. The national average is 68 percent.

• 71 percent of fourth-graders in 2015 were not proficient in reading. That’s down from 76 percent in 2009 but still above the 2015 national average of 65 percent.

• 8 percent of children in 2015 didn’t have health insurance, a notable decrease from 2010 when 17 percent didn’t. Nationally, 5 percent of children in 2015 didn’t have health insurance.

As for the areas where Nevada lost ground:

• 39 percent of children in 2015 were in single-parent families. In 2010, 36 percent were. Nationally, the average also increased over that same time period — from 34 percent to 35 percent.

• 13 percent of children in 2015 were living in high-poverty areas. In 2010, 11 percent were. Nationally, the average also increased over that same time period — from 13 percent to 14 percent.

• The child/teen death rate increased, from 27 fatalities per 100,000 children and teenagers in 2010 to 30 in 2015. Nationally, the average decreased slightly from 26 per 100,000 in 2010 to 25 in 2015.

Louise Helton is the communications specialist for Nevada Kids Count, a project of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV's Lee Business School that supplies the Annie E. Casey Foundation with Nevada's data. She says the report should be seen as a roadmap for improving the lives of children and the future of the state.

“It’s unfortunate the report comes out just after the Legislature was dismissed,” she says. “Most of these things really need legislative work. We’ll have to wait two more years to address these issues.”

Helton uses the example of Assembly Bill 186, a proposal to establish more early childhood education programs. It didn’t get very far during the 2017 session, but Helton says legislation like that is exactly what the state needs to improve its rankings.

According to the Kids Count Data Book, 66 percent of Nevada's young children in 2015 weren’t in preschool. The national average is 53 percent.

“It was an opportunity lost,” Helton says. “We know there’s no better bang for your buck than preschool. Early opportunities for kids to learn are the best way to ensure they do better later on. Study after study has shown children depend less on social services and are more inclined to adopt strong social values when they’ve had a good early childhood education.”

A decade ago, in pre-recession 2007, Nevada ranked 33rd in overall child well-being. That year, the state fared better than most on several indicators, including the percentage of children living in poverty and the percentage of children living in households where the head lacked secure employment.

“It hasn’t always been Nevada at the bottom,” Helton says. “We have to get better. We have to. The future of our state deserves it. … We’re seeing slight improvements but not enough improvements. We have to make the proper investments.”

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