State leaders say the Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook, released on Monday, makes a case for continued action on both state and national levels. The factbook presents the status of family and community, economic well-being, health, safety and education in regards to Rhode Island’s children.
Portions of the factbook and its executive summary showed areas of improvement. The median family income for RI families with their own children was $70,108 in 2015, up from $61,605 in 2014. The unemployment rate has also decreased from 7.7 percent in 2014 to 5.4 percent in 2016.
The state also ranks fifteenth best in the nation for health insurance coverage – nearly 97 percent of Rhode Island’s children have health insurance, leaving 3.4 percent uninsured.
Though racial disparities in this category still exist, the factbook’s executive summary reports that 2015 birth rates for both U.S. teens (22.3 births per 1,000 teen girls) and Rhode Island teens (14.3 births per 1,000 teen girls) were the lowest ever recorded.
According to the executive summary, homelessness is still a prevalent problem for Rhode Island’s children. During the 2015-2016 school year, the executive summary says, public school personnel identified 1,057 children as homeless, an increase from the previous year’s 1,031. In 2016, 515 families with 966 children (compared with 482 families with 988 children in 2015) stayed in emergency homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and transitional housing in the state. Children made up 23 percent of those using the services, and 48 percent of those children were under the age of six. In addition, between 2011 and 2015, 24.3 percent of Rhode Island children under age six lived in poverty, and 19.4 percent of children under age 18 in the state lived in poverty in 2015, down marginally from 19.8 percent in 2014. Racial disparities existed here, too; between 2011 and 2015, 63 percent of Native American, 42 percent of Hispanic, and 33 percent of black children in Rhode Island lived in poverty as opposed to 16 percent of Asian children and 15 percent of White children.
Other portions of the factbook and summary highlighted educational disparities, one of which being more than one in three Hispanic and more than one in four Black adults in the state don’t have a high school diploma, compared to 1 in 10 White adults. It also listed a statistic often quoted by Raimondo and advocates of her free tuition plan Rhode Island Promise: by 2020, 71 percent of all jobs in the state will require some type of postsecondary training beyond high school.
When some of the state’s leaders, including Governor Gina Raimondo, Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and members of the General Assembly were presented with copies at Kids Count’s policy breakfast on Monday, Raimondo pointed specifically to its section detailing college enrollment and completion statistics; it reports that Rhode Island’s college completion rate is the lowest of all states in the New England Secondary School Consortium. In addition to making improvements at all points between early and college education systems, college completion rates could be increased with “state policies that reward colleges for meeting performance goals, transform remediation practices, encourage full-time college attendance, help students balance work and school, and support on-time graduation,” the factbook states.
That data makes a case for passing Rhode Island Promise, Raimondo asserted.
“This is not about giving anything away for free. This is about making sure every Rhode Islander has the job training and education they need in order to be successful...Get with me on this,” she said. “We have the money, we have the conviction. Rhode Island believes in our future. Let’s pass Rhode Island Promise so people can have a shot and not drop out because they can’t afford it.”
According to the factbook, 657 Warwick students graduated high school in 2015, 396 of which enrolled in college within six months, and 316 persisted (enrolled for a third semester). In Cranston, 762 graduated high school, 481 enrolled in college within six months, and 355 persisted. In Johnston, 173 graduated high school, 103 enrolled in college within six months, and 85 persisted.
Cicilline weighed in on a national angle. He said he wanted to give President Donald Trump a copy of the factbook as cuts in the President’s proposed budget could be “devastating” to children’s development and well being in areas like health, education, nutrition and housing, he said.
“We all have a responsibility in this moment to do our part to resist the awful direction of this new administration,” he said.