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Report: Arkansas Ranks Near Bottom in Children’s Well-Being

A new report says Arkansas children continue to face serious problems with health care, poverty and family life. (Tama/Getty Images)
A new report says Arkansas children continue to face serious problems with health care, poverty and family life. (Tama/Getty Images)
June 13, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas is a tough place to grow up, according to an annual report on children's well-being.

For the second consecutive year, Arkansas is ranked 45th among the 50 states in the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book, which examines the condition of children and families in the United States.

In this year's survey, Arkansas placed in the "bottom 10" states for the health, economic well-being, and family and community life of its kids.

Rich Huddleston, executive director, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, says he is troubled by a significant jump in the number of kids living in poverty.

"Ordinarily, we're not too concerned when you slip just a couple places, because of the data, how you rank relative another state," Huddleston says. "But when you slip 11 spots – that really starts to get our attention."

Huddleston says 27 percent of Arkansas kids live below the poverty line, endangering their ability to succeed in life.

The state's highest ranking was in education, where Arkansas was 35th. However, he adds that there is still a pressing need for across-the-board improvements for Arkansas children.

Huddleston adds budget cuts by the Republican-controlled Legislature have crippled many of the programs designed to benefit children. Since 2013, he says, tax cuts have removed more than $300 million from the state's revenues.

"We've really started to see the impact the tax cuts have had, in terms of money in the state budget to invest in kids," he says. "So, whether it's education, healthcare, juvenile justice – all those tax cuts are really limiting the state's ability to invest in things that we know are going to help kids."

Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, points out that nationally, 95 percent of children now have health insurance, a tremendous achievement she says should not be jeopardized.

"This is a real success story, and we want to acknowledge the fact that the country has made a significant investment and that we have the highest percent of kids with health-insurance coverage that we've ever had as a country," Speer says. "And we want to keep those gains."

The report credits parts of the Affordable Care Act, as well as investments in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, for the historic number of kids with health insurance.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR