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South Carolina (again) ranks among the worst states for child well-being

FILE
CDC
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FILE

Children in South Carolina fared worse than the national averages in all but two of 16 measures of health, economic wellbeing, education, and family in 2022, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF).

Kids Count is an annual report that ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on children’s general wellbeing. Overall, South Carolina ranked 40th in the country. Over the past five years, this is where South Carolina has landed, give or take one place in the rankings, every year. Last year, the state ranked 41st.

The (not really all that) good news

In the four overarching categories of child wellbeing measured by AECF, South Carolina’s best placement was 36th, in the family and community category. The state saw improvements in all four indicators within the category, which charts the rates of children in single-parent families, children living in homes in which the head of household lacks a high school diploma, children living in high-poverty areas, and teen births per 1,000 residents.

While 103,000 children in South Carolina were identified as living in families in which the head of household lacks a high school diploma, that’s a rate of 9%, which is two percentage points better than the U.S. rate.

All other indicators in the category improved within the state since the 2010s, but were all either flat with or slightly higher than U.S. rates.

South Carolina also bettered the national average in the rate of children living in households with high cost burden (cost burden being broadly defined as when at least 30% of household income goes to housing costs). The state’s rate of 26% of children living in a cost-burdened household was less than the U.S. average of 30%.

Caveat: A quarter of South Carolina’s children were living in cost-burdened households, and that translates to about 287,000 children. And while the rate of children identified by AECF as living in poverty dropped from 20% to 19% between 2019 to 2022, the raw number was 211,000 children living in poverty in the state.

The bad news

AECF ranked South Carolina 46th for the health category, which measures rates of low birth weight, uninsured children, and the rates of death and obesity among children and teens. In those last two indicators – rates of obesity and death – South Carolina had rates of 38% obesity among 10- to 17-year-olds and 39 child and teen deaths per 100,000.

U.S. rates were 33% obesity and 30 deaths per 100,000. Like South Carolina, the country saw its rate of deaths among children and teens rise (from 25 per 100,000) since 2019.

Obesity among children is one of South Carolina's weakest showings in the 2024 Kids Count Data Book. Lack of access to good food in poor neighborhoods could be a contributing factor.
Scott Morgan
/
South Carolina Public Radio
Obesity among children is one of South Carolina's weakest showings in the 2024 Kids Count Data Book. Lack of access to good food in poor neighborhoods could be a contributing factor.

“What’s important to point out here is that the number of child and teen deaths is at an all-time high in South Carolina,” said Sarah Knox, senior director of policy and advocacy at Children’s Trust of South Carolina. “When we look at those numbers, it is alarming.”

While the reasons for these deaths were not identified in the Data Book, South Carolina’s 465 child and teen deaths in 2022 was the highest total it has ever been in AECF’s data.

While Knox said there is “nothing super-surprising to point out in any of this data,” she said that organizations focused on children’s well-being in the state are seeing progress, such as SC Ready test scores for fourth graders are improving, thanks to more active investment from the state.

But there is still a long way to go to get South Carolina out of the company it’s in, in the lowest quartile of states for overall child well-being.

“We need to definitely focus on those indicators,” Knox said of the AECF’s newest numbers, “if we want to make the state’s overall child well-being better.”

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.