A national report on the state of children came out this week from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, based primarily on census data.
"Big picture, the states in the Mountain West are in some cases doing better than the nation," said Noah Berger, the foundation's director of policy reform and advocacy. "Child poverty is lower in the Mountain West than in most of the rest of the country. But it's still pretty high — in every state, more than one in 10 kids is growing up in poverty."
Federal policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps offset the cost of raising kids, have been shown to help lift children out of poverty.
"And there can be state versions of the Earned Income Tax Credit that could significantly help low-income states," said Berger.
In the Mountain West, only Colorado and Montana have state-level EITC programs and only Idaho and Colorado have a state-level Child Tax Credit, according to the group Tax Credits for Workers and Their Families.
And while recent employment numbers may sound impressive, the report found that many jobs are unstable. Between 19% (Utah) and 30% (Montana) of children in the region live in families where no parent has regular, full-time employment, and that's on the brighter end of the spectrum. In fact, Utah topped the country in 2017 in terms of parental employment.
Four states in the Mountain West — Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah — made the top 15 when it comes to a growing number of children since 1990.
"Child populations are growing, and in states where they're growing that's a real opportunity," said Berger. "If we can make sure that all of those kids have access to great schools and the other supports that they need to succeed, that'll create a much brighter future for those states and the entire country."
The percentages of children residing in our states that were not born in the U.S. have remained relatively stable since 1990. With the exception of Utah, growth in child populations were due to an influx of people from other states, rather than from international immigration.
Berger pointed to education as one regional weakness. Across the Mountain West, between 26% and 30% of fourth grade students in public school showed a "below basic" level of reading ability, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
According to a 2010 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, "reading by fourth grade is critical to our economy" and the inability to do so puts students "on the high school dropout track."
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.