NC Child, a statewide child advocacy organization, was in Goldsboro on Sept. 25, presenting county-level data on issues affecting children at the Wayne State of Kids Luncheon which NC Child hosted in partnership with WAGES Community Action of Wayne County.
The lunch at Lane Tree Golf Course was attended by over 60 members of the community and was part of the roll out of NC Child’s annual County Data Cards which provide insight into how children and families are faring when it comes to issues including maternal and infant health, educational attainment, economic security, safety, and health and wellness.
The data comes from 2021 and 2022, the most recent made available by public agencies, and is broken down by NC Child by county and demographics.
Statewide, the data shows that median household income in North Carolina increased by almost $4,000 between 2020 and 2021, rising to $60,516, and that the number of children living in food insecure homes dropped by almost 3 percentage points during that same period, down to 15.4 percent. There was also a small decline in the percentage of children living in poor or low-income homes. Those trends were also reflected in counties across the state.
“We don’t have to accept child poverty as a given, and this data tells us that the policies and investments our legislators enacted during the worst of the pandemic succeeded in stabilizing families,” said NC Child Executive Director Erica Palmer Smith. “As certain federal programs like the expanded Child Tax Credit have expired, we must ensure that there are other policy measures in place at the state level that ensure we can prevent child poverty rates from creeping back up.”
Other statistics worth noting include a slight reduction in the percentage of high school students graduating on time, and modest gains in the percentage of 3rd grade students reading at grade level and the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees or higher.
“We attribute the small dip in the percentage of graduation rates to the transitions around in-person and online schooling,” said Smith. “But it’s encouraging that the snapshot of data from this moment in the pandemic showed that we still made progress on childhood literacy and educational attainment, both of which have cascading effects as our population ages.”
Statewide the data also points to modest improvements in maternal and infant health: 73.8 percent of women receiving prenatal care, which is a slight increase from the prior data year’s 73.1 percent.
The rates of uninsured children also improved slightly from 5.3 percent to 5 percent. Other key metrics, such as the percentages of babies born pre-term or at a low birthrate remain unchanged.
“We all know that the pandemic brought a lot of challenges, but this data tells us that we made meaningful investments into our state’s children and families and that our efforts had a tangible impact,” said Smith. “It’s important that we continue to advocate for policies that help hold on to the ground we gained and make strides in areas like infant and maternal health.”
Smith also says that NC Child expects to see additional increases in these key child health and well being metrics once the state’s decision to expand Medicaid is implemented.
In Wayne County, the indicators often matched trends seen at the state level. This included a decline in the number of children without health insurance, from 5 percent down to 3.9 percent, a slight increase in the number of women receiving early prenatal care, up from 68.5 percent to 69.3 percent, a decline in the number of children in households that are food insecure, down from 23.7 to 20.5 percent, a decrease in the delinquency rate per 1,000 youth ages 6-15 down from 18 percent to 10 percent, and an increase of median family income from $47,221 a year to $49,488.
The county data also indicated some challenges when it came to the issue of education. In Wayne County the number of 3rd grade students scoring proficient in reading in the 2021-2022 school year declined from 39.4 percent to 36 percent and the high school graduation rate declined 81.6 percent to 77.6 percent.
“While we saw some improvements in this latest round of data, some of that funding is running out, and it’s important for community leaders, advocates, and elected officials to study this information and address the issues in Wayne County where children and young people need our help,” said Patricia Beier, the Executive Director of Wages and Board Chair for NC Child. NC Child annually publishes these data cards for all 100 North Carolina counties.
The 2023 County Data Cards are available on NC Child’s website, both as downloadable documents and as an interactive tool, at ncchild.org/datacards.
“It’s mission critical for us to ensure that thought leaders, policy makers, and parents all have access to information that affects the futures of our state’s children,” said Smith. “We all know that the pandemic brought a lot of challenges, but this data tells us that we made meaningful investments into our state’s children and families and that our efforts had a meaningful impact. At the end of the day these statistics are someone’s life story and with the right public policy choices we can make children’s lives better.”