You haven’t heard that much about children’s issues in this year’s campaigns for statewide offices and Congress in Ohio and Michigan. The flippant explanation is that children don’t vote or make campaign contributions. But even if too many elected officials allow such cynical calculations to guide their behavior, voters can’t afford to.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy that is one of the nation’s most effective advocates of child-welfare and juvenile-justice reform, has just released this year’s edition of its Kids Count data book. The annual report assesses how children are doing, across the country and in each state, in four areas: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
The 2014 report suggests that the kindest adjective to apply to the condition of children in Ohio and Michigan is “mediocre.” That’s not good enough. Our children deserve more-effective public policies (as well as private efforts) to improve their lives, but won’t get them until voters demand them.
Ohio ranks a middling 24th overall among the states on the Kids Count report card — slightly better on education, health, and economic well-being, but worse on family and community measures. Michigan ranks a dismal 33rd, with especially poor performances on education and economic indicators.
One of every four Ohio children lives in poverty, and one of every three has parents who lack secure jobs, the report says. Both rates are slightly above the national average, and both have gotten worse since the Great Recession. Ohio also lags behind the nation in teen births and in its rates of children who live in single-parent families and in high-poverty areas — a measure of economic segregation.
The more-hopeful news is that Ohio does a bit better than the nation as a whole on such health indicators as children with health insurance and rates of child and teen deaths. The state also outperforms the nation on education indicators such as eighth-graders’ math proficiency and high school students’ timely graduation rates.
Dawn Wallace-Pascoe, a project manager at the Ohio chapter of the Children’s Defense Fund, says the Kids Count numbers suggest that state policy makers “need to focus on reducing child poverty ... and finding secure employment for parents.” That’s sound advice for Gov. John Kasich and the General Assembly, if they decide to take a break from cutting taxes for the richest Ohioans while providing inadequate state aid to schools and essential human services.
In Michigan, things are even worse. The state ranks just 38th in measures of children’s educational performance. As in Ohio, Michigan’s rates of child poverty and single-parent families have grown in recent years.
Gilda Jacobs, the president of the Michigan League for Public Policy, calls on Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature to restore the cuts they have made in state aid to education, to do more to help poor and working families afford food and child care, and to invest in more-effective strategies to reduce the state’s worsening rate of low-birth-weight babies. All good suggestions, if they can find room on Lansing’s political agenda.
For Ohioans and Michiganians who define the future as extending beyond the next election, their states can’t afford to stand still on child well-being, because standing still means falling behind. They should vote accordingly in November — because little will change until they do.