RISK INDICATORS

Table 1, below, shows data for key risk indicators. Two important health-related risk factors – the percentage of births to mothers with less than a high school education and the rate of low birth-weight deliveries, show little or no improvement in the five-year span. One positive trend: the teen birth rate (for ages 15-17) continues a steady decline, mirroring the strong national trend.

Child poverty data, shown in greater detail in Figure 1, below, are more worrisome. While it is encouraging that the high rates seen following the 2008 recession are slowly declining, the 2017 poverty rate for Virginia children birth-to-four still exceeds the pre-recession level. Most troublesome is the potential threat to child development posed by the prolonged duration of this unusually high (for Virginia) rate of poverty. Young children with prolonged exposure to poverty are more likely to start school already behind and to struggle in their early school years.

Figure 1 also shows the large year-to-year increases in the number children birth-four living in poverty. Note that most children born in 2009 entered kindergarten in the 2014-15 school year, so the front edge of a multi-year wave with high numbers of children in prolonged poverty has reached school age.  This wave will continue for the next 5-6 school years. The previous (2016) Report Card noted these substantial recession-induced increases and warned of their possible future impact on various outcomes. The multiple risks associated with this prolonged poverty exposure may have started to show up in lower state averages on the PALS-K measure and on standardized test scores, especially on 3rd grade SOL tests (see the Results). Interpreting trends on these indicators will have to take this “prolonged-poverty wave” into account at least for the next 5-6 years.

Note also that there are severe ethnic/racial disparities in most risk factors. Since many risks are associated with child poverty, this single indicator can best illustrate overall risk disparities. Census data for 2016 (American Community Survey) for the birth-five population in Virginia show that the estimated poverty rate for black children (29 percent) was nearly quadruple the rate for non-Hispanic white children (8 percent); and the rate for Hispanic children (26 percent) more than triple the non-Hispanic white rate. The potential impact of both circumstances – prolonged recession-induced child poverty and severe racial/ethnic poverty disparities – is discussed here.




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