When it comes to providing for children, Illinois has taken some steps forward, but the state’s also taken a few steps back.
It’s a mixed picture according to the latest yearly report co-published by Voices for Illinois Children, a privately-funded children’s advocacy group.
Here’s where Illinois shines. The Kids Count data book for 2012 ranks Illinois among the top four states that provide health insurance coverage for children. Only four percent of Illinois children lack coverage, compared with eight percent nationwide.
“Our current rating on health insurance coverage largely reflects the state’s successful efforts over the last 10 years to expand access to healthcare through Medicaid and a children’s healthcare program called CHIP,” said Larry Joseph, director of fiscal policy at Voices for Illinois Children.
But the state’s biggest problem area is economic. The number of Prairie State kids living in severe poverty has grown to more than 300,000 over the past decade, an issue Progress Illinois has covered in the past.
Illinois is now the number three state in terms of children living in poverty-stricken areas, just below Michigan and Ohio.
“We already knew that child poverty rates were on the rise because of the recession,” Joseph said. “Research tells us that kids who grow up in concentrated poverty are more likely to experience harmful levels of stress, develop behavioral and emotional problems, and are less likely to achieve economic success as adults.”
In general, when compared to other states Illinois is doing a slightly above-average job of providing for children’s well-being. In fact, overall we’re ranked number 21 out of all 50 states.
Joseph said that’s good, but not great. State budget cuts targeting early childhood education programs could severely limit poor children’s access to quality education, which, in the long run, could end up hurting Illinois’ potential work force.
"Illinois had become a leader in early childhood education,” said Gaylord Gieseke, president of Voices for Illinois Children, in a press release. “It’s unfortunate that progress has been eroding, especially since we know that children who receive support early have a greater chance of success in school, at work, and throughout their lives. Investing in kids makes sense from both social and fiscal perspectives."
Other findings from the report include a rise in the number of Illinois parents lacking a secure job, but the number of young kids attending preschool has gone up.
Released on Wednesday, the report combined data covering four areas, which include economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.