AUSTIN — Despite its booming economy and ballooning population, Texas remains one of the 10 worst states in America to be a kid, according to a report released Monday.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, in its annual Kids Count assessment of children’s health and well-being, ranked Texas 42nd nationally — up just two spots from the 2012 report, even though there were statewide improvements in access to preschool and falling rates of youngsters without health insurance.
“Our movement is in the right direction but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Frances Deviney, Kids Count director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Austin think tank.
The report contains data from 2011 or earlier, the most-recent available. It found that the overall well-being of children improved nationally as the United States shook off the Great Recession.
Texas emerged from the economic doldrums better than many parts of the country, but the Casey Foundation said its child poverty rate continues to climb — reaching 26.2 percent, or more than 1.8 million children, in 2011.
That’s more than one in every four youngsters and 3-plus percentage points higher than the national rate from that year.
The Lone Star State also has seen its percentage of kids who live in high-poverty areas grow consistently, reaching 18 percent by 2011, compared to 12 percent nationally.
Since young people living in high-poverty areas tend to get little neighborhood support and resources, they are less likely to improve their economic plight throughout their lifetime.
On the plus side, the state’s rates of child and teen deaths fell, as did teen births. Its percentage of youngsters without health insurance also declined from 18 percent in 2008 to 13 percent three years later.
Still, the U.S. rate of children without health insurance improved from 10 percent to 7 percent over the same period. Deviney said Texas has recently overtaken Arizona and now has only the second-highest rate in the nation of uninsured children — but still has America’s highest rate of people of all ages without health insurance.
The grim report comes despite the state creating nearly half of all the nation’s new jobs in the two years following the official end of the national recession in June 2009. Meanwhile, the Texas Workforce Commission said this month that 226,000 jobs were generated statewide just in the past year.
Gov. Rick Perry’s office now boasts that 1,400 people are moving to Texas daily. But Deviney said the state has the third-highest percentage of low-wage jobs in the country.
The report also found that 59 percent of young Texans don’t have access to preschool, though that was an improvement from 61 percent previously. Some 60 percent of eighth graders weren’t proficient in math in 2011, a nine percentage-point improvement from 2005 tallies.
The state also saw 21 percent of its high school students fail to graduate on-time in 2009-10, down from 28 percent in the 2005-2006 academic year, the report found.
Texas’ results were hurt by $5.4 billion in cuts to public education approved by lawmakers scrambling to plug budget shortfalls in 2011. The Legislature in May approved a new state budget that restores about $3.4 billion of that — but Deviney said that won’t be enough.
“The question for me is, ‘Do the people have the will to demand that we prioritize children in the coming years?,’” she said. “I believe the answer to that is yes.”