California State of Our Children, 1998

Nov 01, 1998

Download file: stateofchildren_1998.pdf

In 1998, children are on the political map. Ten years ago, when Children Now was founded, only a handful of children’s policy organizations existed; today, in state capitals across the country, numerous groups are representing children’s best interests. Recently we have witnessed greater attention in Congress and statehouses to child care and children’s health. In California and across the nation, voters and candidates in the most recent elections put education at the top of the political agenda.

But the politically powerful have not become reliable allies of children. Consider the 1996 welfare debate: seldom were children discussed although they constitute two-thirds of those affected. In state budget deliberations across the country, securing adequate funding for children’s programs remains a battle that is often lost.

The Ten-Year Balance Sheet
An assessment of how the well-being of California’s children has changed over the past decade yields mixed results. One of the starkest trends is the disparate economic fortunes of families. A comparison of California families’ average incomes between the years of 1985-87 and 1994-96, shows that families with children in the top fifth of the income range increased their income by 15%, while families with children in the middle fifth saw their incomes decline by 9% and the bottom fifth experienced an income drop of 20%. On a basic level, many more families are struggling today than a decade ago to provide for their children.

Even with the state’s current strong economy, a child is more likely to live in poverty today than ten years ago. In 1987, one in five children (1.6 million) lived in poverty; in 1996, the number reached 1 in 4 children (2.4 million). Most poor children have a parent who works, but earning for those at the lower end of the wage scale have been declining.

And a child has no greater chance of having medical coverage or access to subsidized child care. About 1.6 million children, ages 0-17, lack health insurance, which decreases the likelihood that they will receive preventive check-ups and timely medical care. Three of four children who qualify for subsidized child care do not have access to such care due to a lack of state funding.

Yet, some areas of children’s lives have improved. Compared to a decade ago, an infant today is more likely to be born to a mother who received prenatal care and is more likely to survive her first year of life. Teenagers are less likely to drop out of school. Teen births and youth homicides have declined in the past few years, after their rise in the beginning of the decade. But California has the resources to do much more.

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