Jul 25, 2023 - Education

Report: Louisiana one of the worst states for child wellbeing

Illustration of a child sitting next to toy blocks arranged in a downward sloping bar chart

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Louisiana ranks 49th in the country for child wellbeing, according to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

  • And much of that is driven by economic wellbeing specifically, where Louisiana ranked last.

Driving the news: In 2021, 27% of Louisiana children were in poverty, 11% of teens were not in school and not working and 35% had parents without secure employment, the nonprofit found — all higher than the national averages.

  • Children in Louisiana are also more likely to be homicide victims than in any other state.
  • In 2021, 11% of Louisiana babies had low birth weights — the second-highest percentage in the country.
  • In 2022, an estimated 72% of Louisiana fourth graders were not proficient in reading, and 81% of eighth graders were not proficient in math — both above the national average.
  • One brighter spot is the report is the rate of Louisiana children without health insurance: 4%, below the national average.

Between the lines: The foundation studies a range of metrics regarding economic wellbeing, education, children's health and family and community.

What's happening: "Louisiana’s poor ranking in children’s economic wellbeing impacts every other area of child wellbeing," Teresa Falgoust, director of data and research at the Agenda for Children, told Axios.

  • "There are very few measures of child wellbeing where being economically secure does not improve the likelihood that a child will have a good outcome."
  • For example, Falgoust highlighted, 79% of Louisiana fourth graders who are eligible for free/reduced school lunch aren’t proficient in reading — versus 51% of their peers.

"Simply put, Louisiana is unlikely to improve child wellbeing significantly without improving the economic stability of our families," she said.

  • The state, she argued, has "systematically underinvested" in the kinds of programs and policies that might help its children and families.

Zoom in: Louisiana's children are still facing the consequences of its long history of racism and of residential segregation, she said.

  • It has one of the highest rates of children living in high-poverty neighborhoods, and its Black children are more than five times as likely as white to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, she pointed out.

Threat level: Another statistic of major concern, she said, is the state's child and teen death rate, which increased 44% in two years and sits at 48th nationally.

  • 29% of deaths of Louisiana children and teens were homicides — twice the national rate, tragically making it the state where children are most likely to die by homicide, Falgoust said.
  • There were 52 child and teen deaths per 100,000 in Louisiana in 2021 — compared to 30 nationally.

What we're watching: Some new policies will help Louisiana children's economic situation, including a historic state investment in early childhood education and increased access to doula services, Falgoust said.

  • But the state still needs more policies like paid family and medical leave, programs that support expectant parents and new parents to "work or pursue further education while also supporting children's early development."
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