Reversing some positive trends from past years, statistics in the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands’ just-released Kids Count 2014 Data Book document a daunting panoply of social ills that are not improving in the territory, fed by hard economic times and cuts in government programs.
Kids Count is a national initiative supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that tracks and correlates a broad range of data on the physical, economic and educational health of children. The local survey is conducted by CFVI in the Virgin Islands, which released the 15th annual data book this week. Kids Count measures such things as poverty, teen pregnancy, juvenile crime, school-dropout rates and other factors that help gauge the social and economic wellbeing of the community.
It provides data through 2012. The CFVI unveiled the most recent report on July 31at Government House on St. Thomas.
CFVI’s announcement of the report says "the findings show that economic instability in the territory since 2008 has heightened the risk of negative social outcomes for V.I. children."
Using 2012 data, which is the most recent available numbers, the report says 2,500 fewer children lived in the territory that year than in 2008, which is an unexpectedly large drop of 9 percent. That drop came just as Hovensa was shutting its doors, laying off thousands, so it may be that even more children have left in the ensuing two and a half years.
Although the number of children has decreased, by 2012, the percentage of V.I. families living in poverty had increased. In 2012, the number of families with children living in poverty was at 27 percent – up from 25 percent in 2008. Similarly the percentage of children living in poverty stood at 31 percent – up from 28 percent in 2008.
Much more dramatically, the percentage of children receiving federal Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program help rose to 67 percent in 2012; up sharply from 37 percent in 2008, with steady increases every year, according to the data.
SNAP payments, formerly called Food Stamps, increase based on need, so that they both measure the scale of the problem and also directly help people.
The percentage of children being raised by two parents continues its long slide, dropping from 54 percent a quarter century ago in 1990, to 41 percent in 2010, the most recent available year. Correspondingly, 44.7 percent of children were being raised by a single mother in 2010, up almost 5 percent from 2008.
In education, in 2012, 53 percent of 5 year olds lack expected age-level skills for successful kindergarten learning. And 46 percent of third graders cannot read proficiently for fourth-grade learning, although the data shows very small improvements – about 4 percent – over the last three years. Tragically 64 percent, or nearly two-thirds of 11th-graders in public school cannot read proficiently, nearly unchanged over the four preceding years.
Dropout rates for grades seven through12 is mixed, dropping several years in a row, from 5.9 percent in the 2007-08 school year to 2.9 percent in 2011-12, then jumping back up to 4 percent in the 2012-13 school year. But even with the recent increase, the aggregate numbers have improved.
Those are annual dropout rates. The percentage of students who are enrolled in seventh grade but drop out before graduating is cumulative. If, for example, exactly 4 percent dropped out each year, that would mean about 24 percent of students who make it to seventh grade drop out before graduating.
The greatest risk for dropping out occurs in seventh grade. For example, in 2009-10, 1.4 percent of seventh-graders dropped out; 1.1 percent of eighth-graders; 7.3 percent of ninth-graders; 5.5 percent of tenth-graders; 4.8 percent of 11th-graders; and 3.7 percent of 12th-graders dropped out.
According to CFVI, these trends are consistent with the overall picture for U.S. children overall, as laid out in the National Kids Count Data Book, released last week in Baltimore by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The annual National Kids Count report, which does not include V.I. data in its state-by-state overview of mainland children’s trends, shows that since 2008, the number of US children living in poverty has risen by almost 3 million, from 13.2 million children in 2008, to 16.1 million in 2013, reflecting a rise in child poverty from 18 to 22 percent.
In the report, CFVI made a series of recommended actions for elected officials and policy makers, including:
– Provide parents with multiple pathways to get family-supporting jobs and achieve financial stability.
– Strengthen policies promoting higher pay, paid sick leave, flexible scheduling and expanded unemployment benefits that will result in higher family income, reduced parental stress and an increased capacity of parents to invest in their kids.
– Ensure access to high-quality early childhood education and enriching elementary school experiences for young children.
– Equip parents to better support their children socially and emotionally and to advocate for their children’s’ education.
All the data in the 2014 USVI Kids Count Data Book is online (See links below) .