Report gives Hawaii poor marks for keiki economic wellbeing, education

Hawaii’s overall ranking this year is slightly higher than 2021 ― moving from 26th to 22nd.
Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 4:09 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 8, 2022 at 4:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii ranks in the lowest third of states when it comes to children’s education and economic well-being, while the state scores well in keiki health and family factors, a new report shows.

The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book is published by children’s advocacy group Annie E. Casey Foundation and compiles government data to measure 16 indicators of children’s wellbeing across all 50 states.

Because of the pandemic, this year’s report may not fully reflect the hardship families face, officials said.

Hawaii’s overall ranking this year is slightly higher than 2021 ― moving from 26th to 22nd.

The state also moved up in economic wellbeing, from 44th to 34th.

But the Hawaii Children’s Action Network says that doesn’t necessarily mean things have improved.

“Some of the data that just either hasn’t been collected or wasn’t updated or they just haven’t put the data out yet. It’s like late,” said Nicole Woo, director of research and economic policy at Hawai’i Children’s Action Network.

“So that’s why it’s just hard to compare.”

Woo believes Hawaii’s ranking would actually be lower if the federal poverty rate accounted for Hawaii’s astronomical high cost of living, What is clear is keiki are struggling with financial instability ― 37% live in households that spend a third of income on housing.

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s education ranking lags most of the country ― slipping from 32nd to 35th ― driven by subpar math scores in 72% of eighth-graders.

All this is taking a toll on keiki mental health.

“Between 2016 and 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the number of children and youth who suffer from anxiety and depression went up by 23%,” Woo said. “Now that kids are back at school, that we’re not just trying to catch them up academically, but we’re also making sure to look after their mental health.”

Karen Gibson, a parent coach with Letting Go with Aloha, advises families to manage stress together and lessen pressure on their kids.

“All they need is just the feeling that there’ll be they’re going to be okay. And have parents like, unconditional support and love and there’ll be fine. You know, they’ll catch up,” said Gibson.

Advocates hope the report is a wake-up call for lawmakers and government leaders.

“When families and children face poverty, economic instability, housing instability, that leads to mental health issues, it makes it harder for them to achieve that school,” Woo said. “So taking care of families to make sure that they can afford their rent, afford their housing, and make ends meet will pay off in future years with our children.”

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