Louisiana was ranked as one of the worst states for child well-being in a new study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an organization that focuses on improving educational, economic, social and health outcomes for families and children.
The foundation's 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book was released Monday and analyzes how U.S. states and territories rank in several different areas, including health, education, economic well-being, and families and communities.
In the overall ranking, Louisiana was 49th, ahead of only New Mexico.
The 2022 report focuses on mental health, with children across the nation experiencing depression and anxiety at high levels. Louisiana was one of only nine states that saw the percentage of children ages 3 to 17 with anxiety or depression fall from 2016 to 2020.
In 2016, around 11% of Louisiana children had anxiety or depression, which was above the national average. In 2020, that number fell to 10.1%, below the national average. The percentages only include children that have been diagnosed or reported to have anxiety or depression by a doctor or healthcare provider, so it excludes children who may have undiagnosed cases.
Jen Roberts, the CEO of Agenda for Children, which is the Louisiana member of the foundation's KIDS COUNT network, said the state needs to give children access to appropriate mental health care, particularly after facing multiple hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our state has the power to set children on the path to success by connecting them to appropriate mental health care and early intervention services,” Roberts said in a release.
“Unfortunately, Louisiana's children are not only contending with the one-two punch of a pandemic followed by the devastation of Hurricane Ida, they also face the challenge of trying to find appropriate mental health care in a state where three out of every four residents live in a mental health care provider shortage area.”
The report also highlighted significant racial disparities across the nation related to economic well-being, education and other areas.
Louisiana improved in several areas measured by the report, but it still ranked in the bottom 10 in all but four of the indicators.
Courtney Rogers, the director of policy and advocacy at Agenda for Children, said the low rankings in the Data Book show that Louisiana needs to put more effort into meeting children's needs.
"Louisiana policymakers missed a critical opportunity during the 2022 legislative session to build a stronger foundation for children and families when they prioritized physical infrastructure projects over our human infrastructure as they allocated stimulus dollars," Rogers said.
"We need our legislators to put Louisiana children first by investing in initiatives that support kids and families, such as paid family and medical leave, affordable housing initiatives and robust expansion of mental health services.”
For economic well-being, Louisiana ranked 50th despite seeing improvement in all of the four indicators. The state was tied for second-worst for the percentage of children living in poverty from 2016 to 2020 with 26%, tying with New Mexico and ahead of Mississippi.
From 2008-2012, around 27% of children lived in poverty in Louisiana, according to the report.
Of U.S. states, Louisiana ranked 47th for the percent of children whose parents lacked secure employment from 2016-2020, with around 33%. Louisiana was ahead of Mississippi, New Mexico and West Virginia. From 2008-2012, Louisiana's percentage was around 34%.
Louisiana was right at the U.S. average for the percent of children living in households with high housing cost burdens with 30%, which was down from 32% in 2008-2012.
Louisiana was tied for last among U.S. states for the percentage of teenagers not in school and not working with 10% along with Alaska, Nevada and New Mexico. That percentage was down from 12%.
Louisiana ranked 48th overall in the education category, though it saw improvement in three of the four indicators.
The one area where Louisiana regressed in education was the percentage of children aged 3 and 4 not in school, rising from 46% to 49%. Still, Louisiana is ahead of the national average of 53% and was the ninth best of U.S. states.
While Louisiana improved in the other areas, it is also well below the national average. Around 74% of fourth graders were not proficient in reading in 2019, which is an improvement from 82% in 2009, but far from the national line of 66%.
Only two states had a higher percentage than Louisiana:—Alaska and New Mexico.
Around 77% of Louisiana students were not proficient in math in 2019, down from 80% in 2009. The national average is around 67%, and Louisiana was the third-worst of U.S. states, beating only Alabama and New Mexico.
About one-fifth of Louisiana high school students did not graduate on time in 2019, down from 29% in 2009. The national average is about 14%, and Louisiana was tied for 48th among U.S. states with Alaska and Oregon, beating New Mexico and Arizona.
Louisiana regressed in three of the four indicators for health, which helps explain its overall ranking of 49th.
The one area where Louisiana showed improvement from 2008-2012 to 2016-2020 was the percentage of children without health insurance. For 2016-2020, Louisiana was slightly better than the national average with 4% compared to 5%. From 2008-2012, Louisiana's percentage was 7%.
Louisiana saw its percentage of low birth-weight babies rise slightly compared to 2008-2012, going from 10.7% to 10.9%. Louisiana ranked 49th among U.S. states, ahead of only Mississippi.
The state also saw the number of child and teen deaths per 100,000 rise, and Louisiana's rate is significantly higher than the national average. From 2016-2020, Louisiana had 43 child and teen deaths per 100,000 — up from 37 — compared to the national average of 28.
Louisiana ranked 49th, ahead of only Mississippi for child and teen death rate.
The state was tied for 45th with Tennessee, Texas and Alabama for the percent of children and teens aged 10 to 17 who are obese or overweight with 37%, ahead of Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and West Virginia.
Family and community
Louisiana ranked 49th overall in the family and community section, and improved in two of the four indicators.
The state saw the percentage of children living in households where the head did not have a high school diploma fall from 16% in 2008-2012 to 12% in 2016-2020. Louisiana now sits at the national average.
Louisiana also saw dramatic improvement in the number of teenagers giving birth per 1,000 teens. From 2008-2012, Louisiana's rate was 48 per 1,000, but it fell to 26 per 1,000 in 2016-2020. Still, Louisiana is above the national average and has the third-highest rate in the U.S. behind only Arkansas and Mississippi.
Louisiana stayed the same in its percentage of children in single-parent households with 44%, which is higher than the national average of 34%. Louisiana has the second-highest percentage of U.S. states behind only Mississippi.
The state regressed when it came to the percent of children living in high-poverty areas, which grew from 18% to 19% and is 10 points higher than the national average. Louisiana has the third-highest percentage of U.S. states behind Mississippi and New Mexico.
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This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Louisiana is 49th in child well-being, according to a new report