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The outlook for Florida children looks grim

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Florida ranks 37th in the nation for child well-being. The latest KIDS COUNT Index moved Florida up one spot from 2014, but the data compiled shows there is still much to do – especially for minority children and those living in poverty.

The data ranks Florida 45th in economic well-being, 27th in education, 38th in health, 34th in family and community. Even in the state’s most positive area, Florida is still worse off for kids than more than half the nation.

The data looks at a broad range of statistics ranging anywhere from parental education to how often parents read to their children in states. It looks at how kids score on tests, how many graduate, how many get locked up and even how many die.

In Florida, and on average throughout the United States, a black child is more likely to die than one who is white. Though more white children died in Florida in 2013, the rate of deaths compared between the two races was up seven points for African-American children.

In 2011, 2,091 black juveniles were in jail – more than any other race. That trend is the same when looking at nationwide numbers.

The data looks at a variety of factors indicating the overall chance of a child succeeding in each state.

Florida’s graduation rate is 75.6 percent compared to the national rate of 81 percent. Of the national figure, 85 percent of white students graduated while only 68 percent of blacks did, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The KIDS COUNT data showed 25 percent of Florida high school students don’t graduate on time compared to the national average of just 19 percent.

At five percent, more teens between 16 and 19 are neither in school or working than nationwide. That figure is just four percent. That figure is significant because it shows those teens are likely not to continue their education and more likely to get into trouble on the streets.

In 2012, per pupil spending in Florida was $9,120, far below the national average of $11,735 and down from previous years. In 2008, per pupil spending in Florida was $9,810 and the national average was $11,223. So while Florida’s per pupil spending has dropped, the national average has actually gone up.

It’s worth noting these figures are far different than what the state of Florida actually spends to fund public education. Those figures are below $8,000. However the KIDS COUNT data uses actual per pupil spending amounts from the National Center for Education Statistics to determine the rate of spending. It’s not clear if that is just government spending or if it includes individual expenditures as well.

Florida’s reading proficiency for fourth graders isn’t bad at 75 percent, however of those who scored below proficiency level, more than 70 percent were eligible for free or reduced lunch linking literacy to income level.

Poverty levels are significant in Florida. In 2013, 26 percent of Florida families with at least one child and one parent who worked at least 50 weeks out of the previous year were considered low income. That is at or below twice the federal poverty level.

And in 2011, 82 percent of the total eligible population were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

In 2012, 25.6 percent of Florida children under the age of 18 were living in poverty. What’s startling is, though conventional wisdom holds the economy is on the rise, impoverished children are increasing. In 2008 only 18.4 percent of children were living in poverty.

Worse, 11 percent of kids were living in extreme poverty (50 percent of the federal poverty level) in 2013. While the poverty rate has increased dramatically since 2008, the number of children living in extreme poverty has risen only slightly from 9 percent.

There are also more kids living below 200 percent of poverty than kids living above it.

Again, the outlook is even more grim for African-American children. Wholly 40 percent of black children live in poverty while only 15 percent of white children live in homes with income considered at or below poverty.

And 48 percent of black children live in a family where no parent has full-time, year-round employment compared to only 26 percent of white children.

There have been some improvements in Florida. Parental unemployment is down three points since 2009 when the rate was nine percent. It’s now just six percent. Only eight percent of children have at least one unemployed parent. That’s down from 12 percent in 2009.

More than 30 percent of children have parents who lack secure employment. That puts families at potential risk of being just one paycheck away from poverty and means those families are also likely to be living paycheck to paycheck.

Fewer families own homes now than in 2009. Back then 61 percent of children lived in homes owned by a parent or caregiver. That figure is down to just 54 percent. And of the children living in Florida, 14 percent of them live in homes considered crowded housing, meaning more than one person per room. That puts Florida among one of the worse in the nation for crowded housing levels.

Compared to the nation, Florida is also among the worst in single-parent households and children born to unmarried mothers.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email

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