Study Links State Program Funding to Children’s Well-Being

January 23, 2012; Source: New York Times Economix Blog | The Foundation for Child Development,with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, recently released a new report, “Investing in Public Programs Matters: How State Policies Impact Children’s Lives”. The report uses results from a 2007 study of children’s well-being that includes 25 separate indicators and seven domains. As key findings, the report highlights the benefits of higher tax rates for children, public investments in education and health programming, and the strong link between children’s well-being and the state in which they live.

As a way to illustrate the range of findings from the most recent Child Well-Being Index (CWI), the report contrasts the highest-ranking state, New Jersey, with a CWI value of .85, with New Mexico, the lowest-ranking state, with a value of negative .96. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Utah, Connecticut and Minnesota were also among the highest-ranking states, while Arizona, Nevada, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi were among the lowest.

The report emphasizes the correlation between states with high CWI rankings and high state taxes. It also links CWI rankings to the investments these same states make in education programs (from the Pre-K to secondary level) as well as their less restrictive Medicaid programs and higher Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. Stressing the importance of this funding variability between states, the report notes that, unlike funding for other sectors of the population, “now more than ever, the well-being of children lies in the hands of state policy makers.”

Providing broad analysis on findings from the report in a recent post on the New York Times’ Economix blog, University of Massachusetts at Amherst Professor Nancy Folbre points out that, “The higher the percentage of children in a state who are minorities, the lower the state’s index of child well-being.” Folbre adds that there is a need for more success stories from states promoting child well-being, which in her view “might reveal strategic innovations in efforts to overcome differences and build strong political coalitions.”

As a concluding note for policy makers, the study emphasizes that now is “exactly the wrong time to reduce taxes,” and argues that government should increase investments in education and health programs. –Anne Eigeman

  • A. January

    I’m frankly shocked to hear that Utah was ranked among the highest, given that we are consistently underfunded in education and our legislature is frequently successful in their attempts to make programs for children in poverty (like medicaid and TANF) more restrictive in Utah than federal guidelines require.