Data released last week by N.C. Child, a nonprofit organization that promotes policies helping every child in the state have the opportunity to thrive, reveal mixed progress toward this goal in Wilkes County.
The information indicates some of the most substantial improvements in Wilkes recently were in family economic security, one of the strongest determinants of the success of children when they become adults.
Income gaps between the rich and the poor have widened nationwide in recent years, but significant growth in median family income in Wilkes has occurred.
The latest N.C. Child report shows median family income in Wilkes rose from $40,829 in 2014-2018 to $44,107 in 2015-2019.
Similarly, the percentage of children living in poor or low-income homes decreased from 56% in 2018 to 54.3% 2019. Despite the improvement, this is unacceptably high.
Food insecurity is closely connected to poverty and 23.8% of Wilkes children lived in food insecure households in 2018, up from 22.6% the prior year.
There are reasons for concern about certain infant health trends in Wilkes.
According to N.C. Child, 11.8% of babies born in Wilkes in 2019 had a low birthweight and 7.5% just a year earlier.
The report said 13.3% of babies born in Wilkes in 2019 were born pre-term, up from 9.3% in 2018. Sixty-seven percent of pregnant women in Wilkes received early pre-natal care in 2018 and 62.5% in 2019.
Infant deaths per 1,000 live births increased from 7.2 in 2018 to 12 in 2019.
One of the biggest improvements locally was the percentage of third graders scoring proficient in reading.
It increased from 55.7% in the 2017-18 school year to 62.2% in 2018-19.
Students are expected to be readers at the end of third grade, so reading instruction time is diminished or eliminated in favor of other disciplines.
Reading proficiency is the essential academic skill required for success in life.