About two-thirds of Richmond County children live at or near the poverty level, and about one-third may not know where their next meals are coming from, according to a report released this week by the child-welfare watchdog NC Child.
The group called on elected officials and candidates for office to champion children’s issues and to specifically address child poverty in North Carolina, while noting minimal improvement in some data — including figures for Richmond County.
“Big problems demand big solutions,” said Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child. “In 2018, we hope candidates will take bold steps to (make) affordable, high-quality health insurance available …, (to invest) in our public schools and (to expand) access to quality early-learning programs for young children.”
The data snapshot shows how children and families fare in 15 key areas of well-being. Both Richmond County and the state as a whole are making halting progress toward improving children’s health and education, the report shows, but both should invest more in evidence-based policy solutions.
In its data on Richmond County alone, the report said that:
• 64.1 percent of children live at or close to the poverty level, which puts them at risk for poor educational attainment, bad health and continuing poverty.
• 27.9 percent of children live in food-insecure households, which puts at risk their immediate health, safety and ability to learn.
• 56.6 percent of women in Richmond County received early prenatal care in 2016 vs. 56.0 percent in 2015, the latest years for which statistics are available. Statewide, 69 percent of women received early prenatal care.
• 10.6 percent of babies were born at a low birth weight in 2016 vs 11.7 percent in 2015. Statewide, 9 percent of babies were born at a low birth weight.
• 76.7 percent of high school students graduated on time in 2017, compared to 81.2 percent in 2016. Statewide, 86.5 percent graduated on time.
“Marginal progress is better than no progress, but the fact remains that our state’s children face far too many barriers to success,” said Whitney Tucker, research director at NC Child. “Treading water isn’t good enough.”
The Richmond County Data Card also includes sample questions constituents can ask candidates for office about key issues facing children. Those and information allowing those in Richmond County to compare their data with data from other counties are available at www.ncchild.org.
At midmonth, the philanthropic Robert Wood Johnson Foundation labeled Richmond County one of the state’s least healthy counties, using data on the quality and availability of education, employment, health care and housing.
With its research partner the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, the foundation released 50 state snapshots showing that where a person makes a home influences how long he or she lives. The foundation focused most strongly on health care.
Not surprisingly, North Carolina’s most prosperous counties fared the best and its least so, the worst.
The five healthiest counties were Wake, Orange, Camden, Union, and Mecklenburg. The five in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, were Robeson, Scotland, Vance, Edgecombe and Columbus.
In a breakdown of important categories, the study reports that Richmond County ranked 87th of 100 counties in terms of health outcomes — how people fare after receiving care — and 96th in health factors, such as the county’s physical environment, clinical care, and social and economic factors.
County Health Director Tommy Jarrell found something to applaud in the findings.
“There was a time when we were 99th” in one study of health outcomes, Jarrell said.
Citing holding steady — though not dropping — in the rate of teenage pregnancy, the county’s welcoming of measures to decrease tobacco use and the implementation of programs to improve educational attainment in both the public schools and Richmond Community College, Jarrell said, Richmond County could expect better outcomes over time.
The trouble with that, he said, is that everybody in North Carolina also is trying to improve outcomes.
“So if everybody does (better statistically), our ranking might not improve, but our scores will,” he said. “So we’ve got to work hard.”