Here at Early Ed Watch, you usually find us writing about education policy. But as we have often written, education is most powerful when it is combined with high-quality health care, parenting, child care, and nutrition. Last week, the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, a 22-agency team that collects and reports data on child and family welfare, released a new report, “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being.”
The report highlights some shifts in child well-being indicators and metrics, many of which carry implications for education policy. According to the report, there were 73.9 million children in the United States in 2011 -- up from 1.5 million kids in 2000. Of those, 24.3 million were aged 0 to 5. That means children make up almost a quarter of the population, and very young children make up nearly 8 percent.
The demographics of children up to age 17 are changing, too. The numbers of multi-racial and Hispanic children are growing, while other races are declining in population or remaining constant. That shift is contributing to the growing need to provide special education services to English language learners. Twenty-two percent of children aged 5 to 17 were identified as speaking a language other than English at home in 2010, up slightly from 2009, and 5 percent of children reportedly struggled with English language skills in addition to speaking a foreign language at home. (For more on English language learners’ education, check out this policy paper from the Early Education Initiative’s Maggie Severns.)
The report also collects data on child poverty. The proportion of children living in poverty has swelled since the years before the country entered a recession. In 2006, pre-recession, the poverty rate was 17 percent; by 2010, that fraction had risen to 22 percent, or 16.4 million children. Ten percent of children in 2010 lived with families whose income was below 50 percent of the federal poverty line ($11,057 for a family of four), the highest levels recorded since 1994. That number was even higher for African-American children (20 percent) and Hispanic children (15 percent). Additionally, the number of children in families with at least one parent working full time dropped from 72 percent in 2009 to 71 percent in 2010. Again, those numbers were more devastating for minority families. Sixty-one percent of Hispanic children lived in families with at least one working parent, and only 53 percent of black children did.
In addition, as we’ve written in the past, going to school with an empty stomach makes learning difficult. In 2010, 22 percent of children aged 0 to 17 were living in “food insecure” households -- families without consistent access to healthy food. Forty-four percent of families living below the poverty line fell into that category.
Health issues can also further challenge children who are trying to learn. The percentage of children aged 4 to 17 with reported emotional or behavioral problems grew from 5 to 6 percent between 2009 and 2010. Obesity rates remained relatively constant for children aged 6 to 17, at about 18 percent in both the 2008 and 2010 school years.
Forty-eight percent of children aged 0 to 4 with mothers gainfully employed outside the home were cared for by a relative in 2010. And 55 percent of children aged 3 to 6 who were not yet enrolled in kindergarten were cared for in child care centers as of 2007, the most recent year for which data were available. Both numbers remained statistically unchanged from 2005 figures.
One indicator that caught our attention -- the percentage of children aged 3 to 5 who were read to every day in the week preceding the survey -- actually dropped from 2005 to 2007, from 60 percent to 55 percent. This comes in spite of mounds of research suggesting children introduced to books early in life achieve higher literacy levels at a younger age.
In discussing early education, focusing solely on child care and schools lets a lot fall by the wayside. Children must be viewed in the context of their families and social worlds to determine what each child needs to succeed; the Obama Administration’s Promise Neighborhoods program is one relatively small-scale attempt to do so. Data like these, though, paint an often disturbing, sometimes encouraging picture of trends in family welfare, and one that encourages the creation of new and better policies.