The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book measuring the health, economic well-being, and education of the nation’s children.

This year’s report shows that changes at the national and state level have made a distinct improvement in the lives of low-income and vulnerable children since the report’s first edition in 1990. More children than ever are enrolled in preschool and the number of children deemed not proficient in reading and math has decreased.

However, the recession’s lingering effects and the stagnant number of children living in poverty show that there’s a tremendous need and investments in quality early learning are more important than ever.

The 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book uses 16 indicators across four areas – Economic Well-Being, Education, Health and Family and Community.  Key findings include:

  • From the report: “Nationally, the percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds attending preschool increased from 38 percent to 51 percent between 1990 and 2012. Although long-term effects have been mixed, program effectiveness is sometimes limited because only a small percentage of low-income children participate in programs of sufficient quality and intensity to overcome the developmental deficits associated with chronic economic hardship and low levels of parental education.  Nonetheless, the research is unequivocal that high-quality early childhood programs, along with other forms of early intervention, are essential for building a strong educational foundation for low-income children and narrowing the achievement gap.”
  • Child poverty persists despite the nation’s slow economic recovery. Nearly 16.4 million children were living in poverty in 2012.
  • The number of children living in high-poverty communities and in single parent households has increased. Thirty-five percent of U.S. children live in single-parent families and 13 percent live in a neighborhood where the poverty rate is 30 percent or higher.

This year’s state rankings of overall child well-being see Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota ranking highest.  Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi rank lowest in the nation.

The 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book paints an important picture of the gains that still need to be made and the potential to lift children and families out of poverty across the country. Early childhood education is still one of the best and most cost-effective ways to decrease our nation’s achievement and economic gaps.  FFYF’s recent poll demonstrates that voters understand this fact and support additional investment in early childhood education.