Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Resource for Policymakers: The American Human Development Project

The American Human Development Project offers policymakers a number of tools to help design and evaluate programs and policy aimed at improving the well-being of, and available opportunities for, their constituents. AHDP translates complex data into powerful and compelling narratives told in accessible language. AHDP’s site includes data and research about: demographics, economics, health, education, environment, politics, and criminal justice, as well as other subjects.

The tools available from AHDP include national analysis, as well as research focused on specific geographic areas including - communities, metro areas, congressional districts, and states. The site includes geographically specific information on key community indicators such as life expectancy at birth, obesity, unemployment, high school enrollment, and incarceration rates. In a recent report, A Portrait of California, AHDP goes beyond addressing the state’s fiscal and budgetary woes to examine the well-being of Californians, using their American Human Development Index; a measure based on official government data on health, education, and living standards.

The AHDP provide technical assistance for policymakers on how to best use their tools and research. For more information, visit

For more data on children and families visit PolicyforResultsData Center.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Unemployment and SNAP: A Fact Sheet

According to the Urban Institute, approximately 45 million people receive food supports through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is an increase of about 69 percent since the beginning of the recession in late 2007. The Urban Institute states that caseload increases reflect; high unemployment (increasing the number of people eligible for benefits), increased participation rates (more eligible households enrolling in the program) and recent program changes that allow states to make it easier for families to get and keep SNAP benefits.

The increase in SNAP participation makes the Urban Institute’s Fact Sheet: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Counters High Unemployment, a great resource for policymakers and others interested in learning the program’s basics, seeing the relationship between the program and the growth in unemployment, reviewing the changes in SNAP participation by state, and for considering potentially issues moving forward.

For results-based policy strategies for Ensuring Children Grow Up in Safe, Supportive, and Economically Successful Families visit

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Preschool Matters

A recent segment and blog post on National Public Radio (NPR) highlighted preschool as the best job-training program currently available. The segment included, James Heckman, a Nobel-Prize winning economist, who found that when comparing a group of workers that had gone through a job training program with a group that hadn't, the training program did nothing to help the workers get better jobs and in some cases even led to worse outcomes. Heckman notes that the students in the training program could not learn the new information provided because they lacked what he determined to be “soft skills” (the ability to focus and pay attention, being curious and open to new experiences, and the capacity to control ones’ temper). Heckman further discovered that these skills are not developed at the secondary or elementary school level, but are learned earlier - in preschool.

In Heckman’s original report about the Perry preschool program in Ypsilanti, Michigan in the 1960’s, he cites the long-term impact of early childhood education. As noted in the NPR segment, the project divided children from the same community into two randomly assigned groups: the first group went to preschool for two hours a day, five days a week (treatment group) and the second group did not attend preschool (control group). Following the experiment, both groups of children went to the same public schools and grew up with similar community conditions. After following the children for 30 years, researchers found that boys in the treatment group were half as likely to be arrested and earned 50 percent more in salary. The girls in the treatment group were 50 percent more likely to have savings accounts and 20 percent more likely to have a car. In all, the preschool group was less likely to become sick, experience unemployment, and go to jail. The study found that the public gained $12.90 for every $1.00 spent on the program. A report by NCSL further concludes that early childhood care and education has a higher return to unit dollar invested than any skill development investment including school, college, and job training.

The report by Heckman displays the importance of early childhood education. However, many families in the United States cannot afford quality preschool programs. Head Start was created to provide preschool programs for children and families living in poverty; however, the program is not large enough to reach all the children in need. When compared to other western countries the United States’ preschool attendance rates are low: in the United States attendance rates are only 70 percent, while in Western European countries attendance rates are between 90 and 100 percent. The high rates of children in the United States that do not attend, or have access to, high-quality pre-school are at a disadvantage from very early on, and as Heckman points out, this strongly affects the development of employment skills and job readiness in adulthood.

Creating a competitive workforce in the United States is important for all Americans and universal pre-school is an important step in ensuring that children in the United States grow into productive, successful adults; leading to both more stable and secure families and a stronger economy.

For more information on increasing quality early care and education and improving K-3 academic success, visit

Monday, August 22, 2011

A New Tool for Using the Census

Arizona State University and the McCormick Foundation brought together 17 journalism data power users and Census subject area specialists to do 40-minute how-to presentations on selected Census topics to ensure that people are able to use the data available at the Census most effectively. The U.S. Bureau of the Census, along with partnering government data collection and dissemination agencies, such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, collect and analyze data on a wide range of demographic and economic topics including: employment, wages, poverty, government finances, housing, public health issues, criminal justice and much more.

Arizona State is offering the full presentations in video format and organized by topic. There are also slides available from each of the featured presenters.

For state and national data on issues impacting children and families visit PolicyforResults’ Data Center. For strategies for improving outcomes for children and families visit

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New KIDS COUNT Data Book!

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released their 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book this week. KIDS COUNT profiles the status of children on a national and state-by-state basis and ranks states on 10 measures of child well-being. The 2011 Data Book includes the most current information about 10 key measures of child well-being, which the A.E.C. Foundation has tracked over the last twenty years, and hundreds of other indicators of child well-being by state, county, city, and congressional district. According to the data released in the annual Data Book, over the last decade there has been a significant decline in economic well-being for low income children and families. Some of the related statistics highlighted in the report include:

  • In 2008, an estimated 11.9 million parents with children under age 18 lacked health insurance coverage.
  • In this country, children born to parents in the lowest fifth of the income scale are likely (42 percent) to end up there as adults.
  • By 2009, the percent of families with children who were asset poor had jumped to 37 percent.
  • Almost 11 percent of our nation’s children had at least one unemployed parent in 2010, affecting nearly 8 million children.
  • In 2009, 42 percent of children in the United States, or 31 million, lived in families with incomes below twice the federal poverty line.

Accordingly, this year’s essay, America’s Children, America’s Challenge: Promoting Opportunity for the Next Generation, addresses the ways that children and families are faring in the wake of the recession and why it’s important to help children reach their full potential and become part of a robust economy and society.

The report’s data showed improvement on some indicators, but also showed the significant impact of the job and foreclosure crisis on children in the United States. For policymakers, this report suggests that there is a great deal of work to do to improve the circumstance for children, families and communities. The KIDS COUNT Data Book provides a number of great resources for policymakers as they continue that work including: customizable reports, research on best practices to improve child well being, and data within and across states, as well as many other useful features.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rural Education Reform

Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced that they are highlighting rural education throughout August. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than half of public school districts (56%), nearly one third of public schools (31%) and almost a quarter of students (23%) reside in rural communities. Rural schools are generally smaller, post higher graduation rates, and serve as the center for community life. However, DOE reports that rural students, nationally, are less likely than their peers to access postsecondary education. This concern, among others, implies that there is a need for reform in rural schools; however, some suggest that education reform is too focused on urban schools and that reform efforts have failed to include the unique challenges of schools in rural areas.

The National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition recently released their 2011 legislative agenda encouraging Congress to focus on a variety of important issues regarding the improvement of rural education. Among several suggestions, the first involves advocating for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. One of their concerns regarding ESEA reauthorization is the way that Title I funds address concentrated poverty based on the number of students in a school who are poor. NREAC suggests instead, to focus on the percentages of a school’s students in poverty. NREAC states that the existing measurement, which leads to rural school districts receiving fewer funds, is detrimental to poor children living in small and rural communities.

Another concern expressed in the NREAC agenda suggests that a “one-size-fits-all” educational assessment can often be problematic for rural students. While momentum around standardizing measurements of academic achievement and increasing school accountability grows, the agenda recommends that states maintain responsibility for determining the type and frequency of assessment for their schools.

In addition to the recommendations for policymakers, the agenda also suggest improvements at the school level, including the implementation of more career and technical education programs. NREAC notes that there is an absence of such opportunities at rural schools and states that these programs are important in preparing students for a competitive economy.

While there are a number of unique considerations in addressing school reform in rural areas, according to a report by the Rural School and Community Trust, there is a lack of research and data specifically addressing issues in rural education. Making informed decisions is critical and while a shortage of research is problematic, there are some sources, such as the Federal Reserve’s National Information Center, which can be helpful to policymakers considering issues in rural schools.

Visit for more information about improving student success from preschool to adulthood and creating seamless education pathways.

Monday, August 15, 2011

America’s Undereducated Workforce: A New Study

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce recently published a study, The Undereducated American. The study found that over the past 30 years, the demand for college-educated workers outpaced supply; resulting in economic output below potential and growing income inequality. Additionally, the report states that the recession and grudging recovery has hidden the fact that we are under-producing college graduates. The report goes on to state that for the United States to make up for lost ground in postsecondary attainment and respond to future economic requirements, we will need to add an additional 20 million postsecondary-educated workers to the economy by 2025, including: 15 million new Bachelor’s degree holders,4 million workers with non-degree postsecondary credentials, and 1 million Associate’s degree holders.

If we do not address the problem of under-producing college graduates, the report finds, income inequality will only get worse (the disparity between the wages of college-educated workers and high school-educated workers will jump from 74% to 96%). However, if we add 20 million postsecondary-educated workers, wages for all groups will rise -- wages for those with a high school diploma will rise 24%, wages for those with an Associate's degree will rise by 15%, and wages for Bachelor's-educated workers will rise by 6%.

Adding 20 million college-educated workers would mean that the United States would reach the President's goal of being number one in the world in degree attainment among the workforce. By 2025, 60% of American youth would have an Associate's or a Bachelor's degree, making the United States first in terms of degree attainment world-wide.

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