COLUMBIA — Every day in Missouri in 2008, 255,953 children lived in poverty; 31 teens left high school without graduating, and 25 girls — ages 15 to 19 — gave birth, according to the Citizens for Missouri's Children's 17th edition of the Kids Count.
The report was published in the 2009 Missouri Data Book, which was released Wednesday and compiles information from more than 30 organizations and covers issues important to the welfare of children including economic security, early education, health, child protection and juvenile justice.
“We want elected officials to be aware of how children are faring, so they can take action," said Emily Schwartze, director of Kids Count and communications for Citizens for Missouri's Children.
The 2009 edition of the book says that child poverty increased from 15.3 percent in 2000 to 18.3 percent in 2008. Adult unemployment for the same window of time also rose from 5.8 to 6.1 percent.
"We are starting to see the impact of the recession in data this year," said Tracy Greever-Rice, associate director for community and economic development at the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis.
This latest publication, using 2008 data, was the first reflection of a full year of economic recession as it affects Missouri. "We expected to see an increase in poverty and unemployment," Schwartze said.
The organization looks at 10 key factors when reviewing data and uses six to determine a composite rank for the well-being of children for each county. Factors considered include: number of students enrolled in free and discount lunch programs, births to mothers without high school diplomas, infant mortality rates, out-of-home placement entries, annual high school dropouts and births to teens ages 15 to 19.
Missouri, as a whole, saw worsening trends in the increased number of students receiving free and discount lunch, infants with low birth weights and high school dropouts.
"The teenage pregnancy trend is increasing, and dropout rates are increasing as well, and we are worried that these things are related," Greever-Rice said.
Although Boone County is ranked 10th in the state out of 114 counties and the city of St. Louis, it is particularly struggling in three areas. There were increases in the number of students who qualify for free and discount lunch, births to mothers without high school diplomas and births to teens ages 15 to 19.
The Columbia area contributes a large portion of the Boone County data, according to Greever-Rice.
Boone County's worst ranking (69th) is for high school dropout rates; its best ranking (ninth) is for births to teens ages 15 to 19.
A trend in one area might be closely tied to another as a result of correlating factors — child poverty and adult unemployment, for example.
"We expect all these things to happen together, but it's unfortunate," Greever-Rice said.
Citizens for Missouri's Children serves as an advocate for children's well-being, and the book includes suggestions for improving conditions for children statewide. Every state conducts a Kids Count, drawing from state, private and other funding.
"These reports are good bellwethers; they provide a good place to start determining problems," Greever-Rice said. "Once a community sees information like this, it becomes impetus for a community to figure out what is really going on and act on it."
Missourian reporter Alix Wiggins contributed to this report.