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Book Review:
Many children face 'inopportunity'

Land of Inopportunity

Save the Children Foundation, 2020

This Save the Children report, The Land of Inopportunity, is much like Annie E. Casey's annual Kids Count report in some respects, but with a greater emphasis and more information regarding inequity of opportunity for children in states and Washington D.C.. Save the Children used 5 indicators of child well being: infant mortality rate, percentage of children experiencing food insecurity and hunger, high school graduation rates, teen pregnancy rates and rates of violent death from homicide and suicide for children and youth, 0-19.  States that do best and worst in aggregate rankings are much the same as in Kids Count: 


Best                                            Worst                      

New Jersey                                 Louisiana

Massachusetts                          Mississippi

New Hampshire                        New Mexico

Connecticut                               Oklahoma (?)                                       

Iowa                                            Arkansas

New Hampshire (?)                   South Carolina

Minnesota                                  Nevada

Rhode Island                              Georgia

Wisconsin                                    Alaska

North Dakota                              Alabama


However, some states with the best overall rankings also have the highest level of inequities, e.g.  New Jersey, Minnesota,  while a few states at the bottom in rankings have far less than average levels of inequity: Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma and South Carolina.  A few states combine low rankings in child well being with extreme inequities: Georgia and Louisiana. The Land of Inopportunity also compares best and worst child outcomes within states. According to the report, "children in the most disadvantaged counties die at rates up to 5 times those of their peers in the same state." Children who live in worst off counties are 3 times more likely to experience food insecurity and 14 times more likely to drop out of school as children who live in counties at the top of the rankings in the same state. More than one- sixth of American children experience food insecurity at some point annually, according to this report. 


The following states have less pronounced disparities in opportunities for children:  Delaware, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, New Hampshire . States with the greatest disparities are: Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Jersey and South Dakota.  Montana has improved the most in overall ranking since 2018, moving up by 9 (out of 51) in state rankings while Kansas has declined the most in rank, compared to other states and D.C.  


According to Save the Children, the U.S. "trails nearly all other advanced countries in helping children reach their full potential," with an overall ranking of 43 out of 180 countries in the world. "The U.S. is 30 points behind most Western European countries." 


States with the highest rates of violent deaths ( homicide and suicide) are Alaska and South Dakota with rates over 14 per 100,000 compared to a national average of 7 per 1000. Other sates with highly elevated rates of violent child deaths include New Mexico, Montana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Nevada, Tennessee , Arkansas, Louisiana and Colorado. Jackson County, South Dakota has the highest child death rate in the U.S., a rate comparable to rates of child death in Cambodia and Iraq, this report claims.  


Texas has the highest rate among states of teen pregnancy. Wheeler County, Oregon has the lowest high school graduation rate in the country vs. Page County, Va. which has the highest graduation rate. Children in Page County, Va. are 185 times more likely to graduate from high school than youth in Wheeler County, Oregon, the report states.  


In these rankings, Washington ranked 19th, Oregon, 22nd and Idaho 23rd.   


Save the Children has one main finding regarding states and counties rankings on these 5 indicators: States and counties which make bigger more sustained investments in children do better on aggregate rankings; and states and counties with low rankings in 2018 that have made investments in children in recent years have made great progress,  while those who invested little stayed where they were in 2018 rankings. The fault, it seems, is not in the stars or a reflection of history, but in state policies and in counties' collaborations and focus.    

© Dee Wilson

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