Jun 11, 2024 - News

The state of childhood well-being in Illinois

Photo of kids at a park event

Chicago youngsters attend a nutrition program that offers meals during the summer. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Illinois kids lost ground in reading and math during the pandemic, but the number living in high-poverty areas decreased, according to a new Annie E. Casey Foundation report.

Why it matters: The data highlights the need for stronger state policies to address childhood nutrition, teen mortality and pandemic learning loss.

The big picture: The annual Kids Count: Data Book looked at baseline data for children from birth to late teens on topics including education, health and childhood poverty from 2018-19 and compared it against data mostly from 2021. Researchers found that nationally:

  • Roughly one-third of children are meeting reading standards in fourth grade.
  • About 25% of eighth graders are proficient in math.
  • Some 30% of students are chronically absent.

Zoom in: Among 50 states examined in the report, Illinois ranked 23rd in childhood economic well-being, which includes factors such as childhood poverty, parental employment and housing costs. Illinois also ranked:

  • No. 8 in education, which includes preschool enrollment, reading and math scores and on-time graduation rates.
  • No. 23 in health, which factors in birth weight, obesity, mortality and health insurance.
  • No. 26 in family and community, which looks at education levels of parents, single-parent households and teen births.

The good news: Illinois kids living in high-poverty areas dropped from 11% to 7%.

  • Those in single-parent households fell from 34% to 33%.
  • Those without health insurance dropped from 4% to 3%.
  • Teen births dropped from 17 to 14 per 1,000.

The bad news: Illinois children whose parents lacked secure employment rose from 24% to 27% during that period.

  • 3- and 4-year-olds not enrolled in school rose from 45% to 48%.
  • Eighth graders lacking math proficiency rose from 66% to 73%.
  • Child and teen deaths rose from 23 to 30 per 100,000, and child and teen overweight and obesity rates rose from 29% to 32%.

What they're saying: The report highlights the need for "equity in policies and programs to assure all Illinois children and families have the resources they need to thrive," Loukisha Pennix, chief youth and family potential officer of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, said in a statement.

  • The YWCA, which partnered on the study, recommends Illinois focus on enhancing wraparound support services in schools, tutoring and student attendance tracking.
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