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Tennessee Scores on One Measure of Well-Being

Embargoed untilContact: Linda O'Neal or Pam Brown
May 23, 2002Phone (615) 741-2633

We're the best! For the first time in the 13-year history of the KIDS COUNT national evaluation of child well-being, Tennessee is No. 1 in a category. Tennessee had the best rate in the nation for health insurance coverage of children in low-income working families, according to the national 2002 KIDS COUNT Data Book released today. In any group of 12 Tennessee children from low-income working families, only one risks going without needed dental care, eyeglasses, prescription drugs and other medical services because of no health insurance. Nationwide, three of every 12 children in low-income working families lack health care coverage.

"TennCare policies have extended health care coverage to uninsured low-income Tennessee children whose parents are in jobs that do not provide insurance or do not pay enough for them to afford insurance if available," said Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the KIDS COUNT partner in Tennessee.

"Unfortunately, proposed TennCare changes will have a negative impact," O'Neal added. "The governor's proposed changes in TennCare would eliminate coverage for thousands of children. If a no-new-taxes budget is passed by the legislature returning the state to a Medicaid-only program, over a quarter of a million children, enough to fill the University of Tennessee football stadium two and a half times, will lose health care coverage."

Although this is not one of the 10 indicators on which the KIDS COUNT state composite rankings are based, Tennessee is doing better on those too. The state ranked 42nd among the 50 states, better than 43rd last year and 45th the previous year. Rankings for this year are based on 1999 data.

Only two of the 10 core indicators were worse. The state improved at a rate better than or equal to the national rate on six of the core indicators, including percent of children in poverty.

Tennessee's best national ranking on an indicator, and the only one in the top half, was 24th for the percent of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment. O'Neal attributed this positive ranking to good Families First policies that provide supportive services essential to moving families from welfare to work, including child care, transportation, education, job training and counseling.

Information in the report also has implications for child care public policy: more than one of every three Tennessee children under age 6 are in paid child care compared to approximately one-fourth nationally. "With more children in child care," O'Neal said, "it is essential that we work to ensure quality early learning experiences so children start school ready to learn and have a better opportunity to achieve their full potential."

The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is an independent agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly. Its primary mission is to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families.

The KIDS COUNT National Data Book is available on the Internet at or through TCCY's website ( The KIDS COUNT program is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to disadvantaged children. For more information contact (615) 741-2633 or the TCCY regional coordinator.