North Carolina lags behind most states in child welfare. We can and must do better.
The annual Kids Count Data book uses 16 indicators to rank states in four categories: family and community, health, education and economic well-being. North Carolina is in the top half (22nd) in education, but was 31st in health, 36th in family and community and 37th in economic well-being.
The ranking in education is up from 28th in 2016, presumably because the General Assembly has been appropriating more money. We still aren’t where we should be — at a pre-recession per-pupil expenditure adjusted for inflation — but we’re better off than we have been in recent years.
The sharpest decline was in economic well-being, in which North Carolina rated 30th in 2016. This may well reflect the proliferation of low-paying jobs that are the dark side of the state’s lower unemployment rate.
The ranking in health improved two places to 31st. A key factor here, indicated in the report, is expansion of health insurance coverage among children, with only 4 percent remaining uninsured. The ranking in family and community was unchanged.
“The economic circumstances in which children grow and learn have a lifelong impact on their health, education and future economic success,” Laila A. Bell, director of research and data at NC Child, said in a statement.
“North Carolina policymakers can and should do more to improve economic well-being for children and families,” Bell said. “Increasing public investments in early childhood education, health care and public schools will create opportunity for children, families and communities across the state.”
NC Child identified three policies that could improve the well-being of children in the state: increased access to health insurance for low-income adults of reproductive age; more investment in early childhood education and programs that reduce or mitigate the negative effects of poverty on child health and development, such as food stamps.
Unfortunately, the state’s policymakers too often are headed in the wrong direction. The state Senate’s version of the budget would cut 133,000 people off the food-stamp rolls. The measure, championed by Republican Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine, was labeled by the Raleigh News & Observer as “a despicable, just-plain-mean action.” We would have to agree.
The state also refuses to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, a policy that especially impacts the working poor. Like the food-stamp cutback, this policy denies North Carolinians access to substantial amounts of federal money to combat the effects of poverty.
“Unfortunately, the president’s budget proposal and the N.C. House and Senate budget proposals are not the best we can do for children,” said Greg Borom, director of advocacy at Children First Communities In Schools of Buncombe County. “Our leaders short change children at the expense of lowering taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Increasing riches for the few cannot balance the books for the lost potential of over half a million N.C. children facing poverty.”
A lot of people locally are working to alleviate the effects of poverty. For example, Eblen Charities partners with the Brumit Restaurant Group and the Arby’s Foundation to give away 80,000 meals to Buncombe County students during the summer. Other agencies too numerous to list also do their part.
Sadly, our elected officials do not.
— The Asheville-Citizen Times