Alaska's children saw the biggest improvement in overall well-being according to the national 2015 Kids Count data book released July 21. Alaska ranks 27th, up from its rank of 33rd last year in the national assessment of how kids are faring in each state published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Every year, the Casey Foundation collects data on children in four specific areas: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
A major contributor to Alaska's bump up in overall well-being is that its rank in child health increased from 46 last year to 31 this year. Alaska is among the states with the lowest percentage of teens who abused alcohol or drugs and ranks the best in the country with the lowest percentage of babies born at low birth weight. Alaska is also among those states with the lowest rates of infant mortality and children living in poverty.
Although we are seeing an improvement in Alaska's rank in health, there is much room for improvement. One in nine children in Alaska, more than 22,000 children, are living in poverty. And while we are having great success with babies being born healthy, Alaska continues to be one of the most dangerous states for children aged 1-19, ranking 50th in the country. Violent deaths, including suicide, continue to be alarming.
As always, it is important to use caution when comparing Alaska with other states in the country.
While much of the country suffered a recession beginning in 2007, Alaska did not and in fact had surplus budgets during some of these years. The 2015 Kids Count data book covers these years, which may account -- in some areas -- for Alaska's improvement in comparison to other states.
Other national measures do not take into account uniquely Alaskan lifestyles such as seasonal employment and subsistence. For instance the number of children living with parents who lack secure employment measures those children where no parent has full-time, year-round employment. The current report shows a very small increase (from 34 percent to 35 percent) in children living with parents who "lack secure employment." However, it is difficult to know what this actually means for children in Alaska compared to those outside of Alaska.
Finally, small changes in the numbers can move Alaska's ranking.
This annual assessment of the welfare of children in Alaska and every other state is a good reminder that improvement takes consistent effort and time. With limited resources it is especially important to invest in programs that are shown to work.
Virgene Hanna is director of Kids Count Alaska at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at UAA. Kids Count Alaska, one of 50 Kids Count programs funded by the Casey Foundation nationwide, provides data to the national program and publishes Kids Count Alaska. http://kidscount.alaska.edu/.