Talk Story with Hawaiʻi KIDS COUNT

This week, HCAN speaks with Hawai‘i KIDS COUNT Project Director, Ivette Rodriguez Stern, on the state of well-being of children in Hawai‘i based on the data from the 2020 KIDS COUNT Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Hawai‘i KIDS COUNT aims to provide unbiased and high-quality data and research to policymakers, child and family advocates, and other stakeholders in an effort to inform their work and advance sound policies and initiatives that support Hawai‘i’s children and families.

 

HCAN:

What is the purpose of the KIDS COUNT research and data findings?

Ivette:

The national KIDS COUNT has been going on since the ’90s. The idea behind it is to have both national- and state-level data on the well-being of children, so that we can track well-being over time. That data is collected annually to look at trends in child well-being, economic well-being, education, and family and community well-being. We can point to where conditions are improving, where things are getting worse, and where we need to have state-level policies and intervention. We can also collectively see what's going on nationally with our children.

 

HCAN:

How was the data collected for the 2020 KIDS COUNT Data Book?

Ivette:

The data is collected by the national KIDS COUNT at the Annie E. Casey Foundation from various federal sources, mostly from the U.S. Census, the American Community Survey, some education, national education sources, so we can get state-level data that then allows the foundation to rank each of the indicators. 

 

HCAN:

What would you say is the most important findings that came out of the Hawai‘i-specific research?

Ivette:

If we go back to 2010 and compare the economic well-being with data in the latest booklet, we see that some of the conditions have improved for Hawaiʻi children. But then when I take a closer look at what's been going on the past couple of years, in terms of economic well-being, some of those improvements already seem to be slowing down. The concern now is that this latest release has all pre-COVID data from 2018. In economic well-being, we're ranked in the middle — economic conditions weren't that great for Hawai‘i kids. And now we have a new problem in the world and a lot of families that are looking at income loss. The concern is that a lot of families may be slipping into poverty, and that will likely make the economic well-being conditions worse for children in Hawai‘i. 

 

HCAN:

Since the data was two years ago, what do you think has changed and how do you think COVID-19 has affected children's well-being?

Ivette:

We don't know yet, but we have some data that probably speaks to that. More Hawai‘i families are going to struggle financially, and that will definitely have an impact.

We have 42% of families that fall into the ALICE category (Asset Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed). Basically, they don't earn enough to cover their basic needs.

Then on top of that, researchers ran a calculation and think that another 35,000 households will fall into that ALICE category. So we’re talking about maybe half of our families in Hawai‘i that, because of COVID-19, are just not going to have enough to get by. These are families with children, and that’s going to impact their well-being.

When I looked at some of the Census Household Pulse data, about half of our families in Hawai‘i that were surveyed said that their household has had income loss since COVID-19. Also, about 40% said that they're expecting additional income loss in the next four weeks.

So it's not a stretch to see that the Data Book is telling us that Hawai‘i already ranked in the middle for economic well-being of our children it's not a great picture. I would say it’s probably going to get worse.

 

HCAN:

Besides economic well-being, do you think other areas will also be greatly affected by COVID-19?

Ivette:

I focused so much on economic well-being of children partly because at the UH Center on the Family, we look at the impact of growing up in economic hardship. There's research that documents the link between economic hardship and low academic achievement and educational attainment. So it's really important that we have a healthy economy where parents can thrive so that their children can thrive.

In terms of other areas, yes, the education indicators are also a concern because we've ranked in the bottom third in the nation in the pre-COVID world.

I do want to highlight that there have been significant improvements in reading and math proficiency over the past decade. So kudos to the public school system, which has done a lot of work to improve scores.

However, we don’t know what impact distance learning during the last few months of the school year and having to leave school so quickly — may have on our kids. We also don't really know yet what the next school year is going to look like and how different teaching modalities may affect learning.

As we move forward, we have to try to make sure that our kids in K-12 maintain their pre-COVID trajectory of improving in reading and math proficiency. Because again, even though there were improvements, we still have had a lower rank on those indicators compared to other states.

 

HCAN:

In the 2020 KIDS COUNT Data Book, Hawai‘i has a higher percentage than the national average for children not in school. Do you think this is linked to the bigger issue about early education in Hawai‘i?

Ivette:

Definitely. It is a concern that over half of our young children are not in some kind of preschool setting per this indicator. Our concern is that during the pandemic, we have had closures that threatened the ability of providers to remain financially viable. And now we rightly have public health restrictions on how many kids they can have, as well as all the new requirements that providers have to go through, which translates to more expenses. Also, families may not be putting their child back in their child care providers, either because they don't have employment or because of health concerns.

All of that is going to impact the early childhood care and learning field. We got some of the federal CARES Act funds to help, and before all this, there was an early childhood education and care package at the legislature, which was groundbreaking. And so we need to keep that up, because we can't lose any traction there. Part of this recovery — that we're probably going to be in for a long time is making sure that our youngest children are prepared to succeed in school, so that they can hold up the state 15 years down the line.

 

HCAN:

What do you think the indicator that 53% of young children ages 3 and 4 are not in school points out?

Ivette:

I think it's no big secret in Hawai‘i that we just don't have enough child care spots in Hawai‘i. We have other research out of the Center on this subject too. The real concern is there may be even less slots here, if providers can't survive. Early care and education is really, really important moving forward. It has to be a priority at the state because it is part of the recovery on so many levels, and it has to be affordable and high-quality. It has to prepare the next generation so that our children then don't lose the progress being made in K-12, in terms of reading proficiency, math, graduation rates, and more.

 

HCAN:

Can you tell us more about the Census Household Pulse Survey?

Ivette:

We pulled week 4 of this weekly survey and found that over half of our households said that they had income loss in their household, and that’s pretty significant. It’s about the same now in week 7: 49.4% reported income loss in Hawai‘i vs 47.8% in the U.S.  And then we have 39.3% of adults saying that they expect income loss, which is higher compared to 31% in the U.S.

Households are still struggling, and this doesn't surprise me because we have the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation. It goes back to the fact that so much of our workforce is in tourism and accommodation. Meanwhile, we have about 20% unable to pay their rent or mortgage. I think that’s pretty high, which makes the housing assistance that the legislature just passed critical. The cost of living, including housing, in Hawai‘i is so high that families can quickly start falling into the hole of not being able to pay rent for one or two months and further into debt. That's a dangerous place to be.

 

HCAN:

How is Hawai‘i KIDS COUNT going to help address the disparities in the economic fallout?

Ivette:

About 2 months ago, Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice started looking at the characteristics of frontline workers. We’re building on this work and looking at the industries that were most affected and had the highest unemployment rates — for example, accommodations and restaurants. We then used American Community Survey data to look at disparities, including racial disparities — what groups make up the particular industry and what are their income levels? Are they mostly low wage? Are there any gender disparities, and what about educational attainment?

The idea is that, hopefully, this identification of disparities can inform the new economy and show us where we might be able to focus our efforts. This will also have implications for family well-being, because I think we’re going to find that certain groups make up particular workforces and that they're going to be lower paid. So how do we want to change that? How do we want to increase opportunity in Hawai‘i and create more equitable opportunities?

HCAN:

How do you think we can improve the data collection to be able to analyze local racial and ethnic diversity?

Ivette:

We can't squeeze people into boxes. In Hawaiʻi, there’s so many people of mixed ethnicity, and that's been a challenge for survey data. For this latest work, we are using data from the American Community Survey, so it's based on how people self-identify. We are using the raw data from microdata files. We're not using the federal racial categories, which are limiting because they combine Pacific Islanders with Asian. Because we're using the raw data, we're going to tease some of that out so that we can look at, for example, Native Hawaiian versus Samoan. We can also pull apart categories like Asian and break them down even further. Even in the national KIDS COUNT Data Book, you see that when they do provide racial data, it doesn't make sense for Hawai‘i.

 

HCAN:

When is like your goal to finish this analysis?

Ivette:

We’re looking at data over the next couple of days, so I'm thinking it might be released in mid to late July. The goal is to inform what kind of opportunities we might want to create in our new economy.

 

Some of the questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.

 

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