In 2020 a little more than 12% of Nebraska kids —  or 56,828 children — lived in poverty, down for the eighth consecutive year since the state’s child poverty rate neared 18% in 2013. But a new report shows while fewer Nebraska children live in poverty, children of color continue to grow up poor at higher rates than their white peers.

“We can say, on the face of it, Nebraska has not achieved racial and ethnic equity, and we have a long way to go in our systems to do that,” said Juliet Summers, executive director for Voices for Children in Nebraska.

About 31% of Black children in the state grow up in poverty, according to 2020 data in the Kids Count in Nebraska 2021 Report, which aims to measure the well-being of children. Twenty-nine percent of American Indian or Alaska Native children and 23% of Hispanic or Latino children grow up in poverty, the report shows, while 7% of Nebraska’s white children grow up in poverty.

Voices for Children in Nebraska, a nonpartisan policy and research organization, released the report of 2020 data on September 7, a year and a half later than anticipated due to data collection delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual report gathers data from state and federal agencies to measure how Nebraska children are doing in the areas of health, education, economic stability, child welfare and juvenile justice. 

Graphic from the Kids Count in Nebraska 2021 Report created by Voices for Children in Nebraska.

In previous years, the Kids Count in Nebraska Report included a Race and Opportunity Index, which calculated 13 indicators of child well-being to highlight the disparities in opportunity facing Nebraska families and children of color and measure the state’s progress toward achieving racial equity. Since many agencies changed the ways they categorize and report race and ethnicity data, the 2021 report could not include an index.

Twenty professionals from around the metro area gathered at the University of Nebraska Omaha for the report’s release Wednesday, Sept. 7. As Voices for Children in Nebraska staff asked how data could be improved, the majority of attendees suggested more extensive data on race and ethnicity, including comprehensive data on Nebraska’s indigenous, immigrant and refugee communities. Some also recommended hosting focus groups in Nebraska communities where the data on racial and ethnic disparities impacts residents the most to collect feedback.

Despite the lack of a comprehensive index, the data included in the 79-page report that could be broken down by race and ethnicity show clearly that systemic racial inequities remain an issue across the state — like those reflected in the child poverty data.

Nebraska ranks eighth in the nation for child well-being and first for economic well-being, according to the 2022 Kids Count National data book, which tracks child well-being across the United States and — like the Nebraska report — is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Despite the high national ranking, Nebraska has a long way to go to improve the well-being of all children, especially children of color, the state report’s research coordinator Josh Shirk said.

“You need other states that are really, really bad to be able to point to us and say, ‘Look at how good it is in Nebraska’, when that’s just simply not the case for many, many people,” Shirk told The Reader after the data release event Sept. 7.

Data highlighted in the report can help also shape policies in the upcoming legislative session that can lift kids and families out of poverty, Summers said. LB108, which extended eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, is set to sunset in 2023.

“One of our priorities for the upcoming legislative session is working with a coalition of folks on getting that eligibility extension, taking the sunset out or extending it so that families can continue to have that little bit of extra assistance right in their pocket to help feed their kids,” she said.

Along with data on economic stability, the report measures behavioral and maternal health, early childhood through high school education, child welfare and juvenile justice. The number of youths arrested has declined by nearly 50% between 2013 and 2020.

The 2021 Kids Count in Nebraska Report data book is available for free through the Voices for Children website here. The book includes commentary on the case to raise Nebraska’s minimum wage, which will be on the ballot for voters to decide this November.

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Bridget Fogarty is a Report for America Corps member reporting with The Reader and its billingual (Spanish/English) sister publication El Perico.

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