Health

An annual report measuring the health and well-being of Kentucky children shows progress in nine categories, including the number of children without health insurance, children living in poverty and children whose parents lack secure employment. But the state still lags behind the nation in these areas, including in the rate of teen births, and children living in single-parent families.

According to the annual Kids Count Data Book, the rate of children living in poverty in Kentucky is higher than the national average: about 22 percent of Kentucky kids lived below the federal poverty line in 2017. That’s compared to a nationwide average of about 18 percent. The federal poverty level in 2017 was $20,420.

Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks says while there’s definitely still work to do, there has been progress in Kentucky.

“Anybody that looks at almost a quarter of a million kids in Kentucky who live in poverty, and doesn’t want to cry, has no heart,” Brooks said. “[But] anyone who looks at that same data point, and realizes that the poverty rate has fallen by about 15 percent since 2010, you know, you don’t have a brain if you’re not applauding.”

Kentucky also ranks near the bottom nationwide in the report’s “family and community” category, which includes the number of kids living in single-parent families and in families where the household head lacked a high school diploma. But the rate of parents with a high school diploma is also below the nationwide average.

Ten percent of Kentucky’s kids lived in a home in 2017 where the head of household doesn’t have a high school diploma — compared to 13 percent of kids nationwide. The Kentucky rate dropped from 14 percent in 2010.

Another area that showed improvement is the percentage of Kentucky kids who have parents with jobs that either paid minimum wage or didn’t offer benefits, markers of insecure employment. In 2010, 37 percent of the state’s kids were in that category. By 2017, that percentage had gone down to 31 percent, or about one in three kids.  Brooks said these parents also often work two or three part-time jobs — with real implications for children.

“And the toll that that takes on family structure, because if my mom is working three jobs, she’s not going to be there,” Brooks said. “When I get home from school, she’s not going to be there to support me at night, she may not be there to get me up in the morning.”

Kentucky’s teen birth rate is 29 per 1,000 teens — a big improvement from 46 teen births per 1,000 in 2010. The number, however, is still higher than the national rate of 19 births per 1,000 teens. Brooks said the decline is part of a national trend.

“It’s not improving in a way that makes [Kentucky] suddenly rocketing to a positive [compared to] nationally,” Brooks said. “But you can be optimistic that it has improved by 37 percent since 2010. That’s a national trend, where fewer teenagers are having kids.”

Kentucky Youth Advocates said the 2010 census also missed 12,500 young children in Kentucky. With the upcoming 2020 Census, the group says there’s an opportunity to get more kids counted, which will help allocate financial resources in the future.

Other Areas Of Note

  • Seven percent of Kentucky teens were not in school or working in 2017, which decreased from 11 percent in 2010.
  • Kentucky has a better rate of kids with health insurance than the nationwide rate. Only four percent of Kentucky kids don’t have health insurance — compared to five percent of kids nationwide. Brooks said this correlates highly with the health insurance gains Kentuckians made under Medicaid expansion.  
  • Four percent of teens abused alcohol or drugs in 2017, the same rate as 2010.
  • There were 31 deaths per 100,000 children and teens in 2017, a slight improvement from 2010, but still above the national average.
Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.