Children Now Insider: It’s not easy being a kid in California

The state ranks 35th in the country on children’s well-being

By Elizabeth Cavagnaro

Children Now® Insider: Stories, News, And Insights On Children’s Advocacy

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released the new edition of the KIDS COUNT® Data Book – the most comprehensive annual report on child well-being in the United States – which takes a 30-year look back at changes in child well-being, to when the first edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book was published.

Since 1990, America’s child population has increased to nearly 74 million children (up from 64 million), as has its diversity – American kids are 25 percent Latino (up from 12 percent), 6 percent Asian and Pacific Islander (up from 3 percent) and 15 percent Black (unchanged since 1990); with an estimated 18 million children who are immigrants or living in families with an immigrant parent (children with at least one immigrant parent has doubled from 13 to 26 percent). And in California, where we have a little more than 9 million children, California kids are 52 percent Latino, 28 percent white, 13 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 6 percent Black. Overall, there are more children of color living in every state today than there were 30 years ago.

With increasing diversity in our state and nationwide, our economic and civic futures depend upon ensuring that all children have the opportunities and supports they need to thrive. Yet, data show that children of color continue to face structural barriers to achieving their full potential. It’s yet another wake-up call that there is real urgency to creating state and national policies that tear down these barriers for children.

In fact, the bright spots in the Data Book show that commitment to policies that target inequity is the only way to move the state from its current spot as 35th in overall child well-being. For example, California ranks seventh among states for health metrics – the only index measure in which the state broke through the top 25. This high ranking is due in large part to state policies like Health4AllKids that focused on ensuring all children, regardless of immigration status, can enroll in health coverage.

Yet, California has much more work to do. The state ranks:

  • 46th in economic well-being: 43 percent of California children live in households that spend more than a third of their income on housing (in 2017), the highest of any state on this indicator. Supports like increased access to affordable, high-quality child care can help to relieve some of the financial burden of raising kids in a high-cost state like California.
  • 41st in family and community: California ranks at the very bottom in the nation when it comes to the number of children who are growing up in a household where the head lacks a high school diploma; 13 percent of California children are living in high-poverty areas; and more than 1 million children are living in impoverished areas. The expansion of programs like the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) and the CalWORKs Home Visiting Initiative can help bring children and families out of deep poverty.
  • 36th in education: California has made modest progress in improving education outcomes for our kids. In 1992, 81 percent of fourth-graders were reading below proficiency; in 2017, this number fell to 69 percent. During the same timeframe, the percentage of eighth-graders who scored below proficient in math dropped from 88 percent to 71 percent. Despite these gains, California needs to make greater investments in high-quality education so that all students graduate from school ready for college, career and civic life.

Let’s make it easier to be a kid in California. The state can and must do better to ensure that all children have the opportunities and supports they need to reach their full potential.

To read the full KIDS COUNT Data Book, visit

As the Director of Operations and Research, Elizabeth Cavagnaro is responsible for supporting Children Now’s day-to-day operations, including contracts, facilities, information technology, human resources, governmental compliance, legal, general administrative functions, and strategic planning; and improving the organization’s operational systems, processes and policies. Ms. Cavagnaro also supports the organization’s finance systems and research needs and publications.

Prior to this position, Ms. Cavagnaro worked as an associate with Children Now’s Research team and before coming to Children Now, she was a Management Program Analyst at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C., in the office of Federal Student Aid. While there, she worked in the project management team on the Department’s policy on Gainful Employment and in the Office of the Chief Executive Officer supporting the executive management team with research and analysis. While in Washington D.C., Ms. Cavagnaro also worked as a Finance and Operations Intern at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society.

Ms. Cavagnaro earned her MPA degree with an emphasis in non-profit finance from the George Washington University. She also holds a BA in Political Science and in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara.