The annual report Kids Count shows the Commonwealth fares better than most by making gains in education, but continues to show poor numbers in economic well-being.
The national rankings from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a group focused on better futures for disadvantaged children, use 16 indicators including health, education, and economic standing.
Advocates, though, say the commonwealth must maintain investments and support programs including high-quality pre-kindergarten.
Joan Benso with Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children calls the governor’s recently approved budget with investments in education a positive move.
But, she said the report shows that Pennsylvania’s economy is still weak.
“We still have a large number of children living in very low-income families, which compromises the likelihood of success,” she said. “So our public investments to mitigate that need to keep growing and hopefully grow quicker or Pennsylvania kids will continue to not keep pace with neighboring states and other states around the country.”
The report looks at 2016 data from the U.S. Census and other state department measures. The national report calls attention to the possibility that the 2020 Census will undercount children and families because of a new citizenship question.
Benso said Pennsylvania agencies and community-based organizations have to help families understand the importance of being counted and make sure families not living in the state legally feel comfortable submitting their information.
“Because, at the end of the day, our number of seats in congress, our share of federal funds and all kinds of different programs are based on the decennial census and that’s the census coming up,” she said.
Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, said reliable data, particularly census data, are critical to informing decisions that improve the lives of America’s children.
“An inaccurate census threatens to undermine essential resources for communities and erode many of the advancements made in recent years for our children — particularly children of color — for years to come,” Speer said.
The report notes that 60 percent of fourth graders in the state are proficient readers and two out of every three eighth graders aren’t proficient in math.
A bright spot among the health indicators was the low number of uninsured children in Pennsylvania. About 96 percent of kids have health insurance.