CASPER –– The economic and family well-being of Wyoming’s children are among the best in the nation, according to a new report. But while the state excels in some categories, our youth are among the least healthy in the U.S.
The annual Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count report published earlier this month measures 16 “indicators,” scoring each state in four categories: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
The new data covers 2019, so does not account for how the COVID-19 pandemic may have affected each category.
For overall child well-being, Wyoming ranks 17th nationwide — falling one position from the previous year.
The state ranks fourth and fifth respectively for the economic indicators and those dealing with family and community.
But for health, we rank 45. Last year, Wyoming ranked 34. The drop in rank follows worsening conditions in several measures analyzed in the report.
Wyoming’s proportion of children without health insurance grew by 4 percentage points between 2018 and 2019 — from 7 percent to 11 percent. The proportion of deaths per 100,000 youth grew by 11 percentage points.
“Year after year, Wyoming lands among the lowest ranking states for health,” Wyoming Community Foundation Chief Operating Officer Samin Dadelahi said in a release. “The rural nature of our state can make access difficult but expanding Medicaid and addressing mental health issues should be a priority for those who care about Wyoming’s children and families.”
Dadelahi did not immediately respond Monday to a request for further comment, but continued in the release, saying: “It is jarring to see the stark contrast between economic well-being (fourth) and health (45th) in Wyoming,” she said. “As a state, we have the capacity to make changes. Increasing access to health insurance is something we can and should do.”
Medicaid is an annual debate in Wyoming, which is one of 12 states not to pass a measure allowing more low-income adults to be covered by the program.
A temporary federal incentive got advocates closer to expansion this year than ever, but the bill ultimately died in a legislative committee meeting.
Medicaid currently covers low-income families and children, pregnant women and some adults with disabilities.
In its best category — economic well-being — Wyoming improved in three of the four scorable metrics; our rate of children in poverty, those whose parents lack secure employment and those living in a cost-burdened household all declined from last year’s report.
In its next best section — family and community indicators — the state improved its rate of teen births and the proportion of children living in single-parent homes by a few percentage points, but did not see any large shifts from the prior year.
Wyoming fell two positions in the education category, but the data for those scores was unchanged from the prior year.
In addition to ranking each state in the four sections, the report also compares how much progress has been made nationally over the last decade.
The good news: Only one of the 16 scored metrics overall got worse between 2010 and 2019, and most saw improvement.
Everything from the percentage of children in poverty to how many students graduate high school on time has seen some improvement in the last decade.
The only measure that got worse was the percentage of low-weight births, which increased by .2 percent.
But the numbers tell a different story for minority youth.
The national average for youth deaths per 100,000 is 25. For African American children, the rate is 38 per 100,000 people. For American Indian youth it’s 28 per 100,000 people.
The disparity follows access to health insurance. Nationally, 5 percent of children don’t have health insurance. For American Indian youth, it’s 13 percent. The report does not provide state-level demographic data.
Its authors do, however, propose a number of policies to improve overall well-being for children nationwide. Among those suggestions is expanding Medicaid for states that haven’t yet. It also calls for a permanent child tax credit and prioritization of the recovery needs of communities of color.
The full report can be viewed online at aecf.org.