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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 22, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsKids Count Even More as Their Numbers Drop

Kids Count Even More as Their Numbers Drop

Cover art for the Virgin Islands’ 2023 Kids Count report illustrates the “clarion call” for attention to the territory’s children and youth. (Photo by David Berg of Blackwood Imaging)

Concerns over the needs of children have driven the annual release of youth-related statistics for decades, but the Kids Count USVI 2023 report also raises another question: Where are all the children going?

The report was released Tuesday by the St. Croix Foundation.

As have past reports, it makes a compelling case for dealing with the multiple challenges facing children and youth in the Virgin Islands, beginning with the fact that approximately one-third of them are being raised in poverty.

But it also highlights what looks like an accelerating decline in the number of kids to count.

In the 20 years between 2000 and 2020, according to U.S. Census population figures, the number of people under the age of 18 living in the Virgin Islands has been cut in half, from 34,289 in 2000 to 17,086 in 2020.

A marked decline in the overall population numbers during that same period accounts for a good part of that difference. In 2000, the total population was 108,612, and by the 2020 census, it had dropped to 87,146.

But that decline was not proportionate over the age spectrum.

In 2000, children under age 18 made up 31.5 percent of the total population. In 2020, they accounted for just 19.6 percent of the population.

In the same period, people over age 65 went from being 8.4 percent of the total population (in 2000) to 21.3 percent in 2020.

The graying of population is a global phenomenon and conventional wisdom attributes it largely to the fact that people tend to live longer.

However, there is another factor: fewer births.

The Kids Count USVI 2023 report contains data for the last four years, showing a steady decline in the number of live births in the territory. In 2019, there were 1,100 births. In 2020, 934. In 2021, 906. And in 2022, just 896.

The population figures are just a fraction of the statistics contained in the report.

Pulling data from government sources, both federal and local, as well as from various non-profit organizations in the territory, the report shines the light on virtually all aspects of a child’s life, including health, education, economics, community, and family.

Some highlights amid the wide-ranging nuggets of information in the reports are:

  • Public high school graduation rates have improved the last three school years from 70.4 percent in 2019-20 to 74.4 percent in the 2021-22 school year but remain well below the national average of 86 percent.
  • The national average for children living in poverty (defined as an income below $26,246 for a family of two adults and two children) is 17 percent. In the Virgin Islands, 33 percent of children live in poverty.
  • Nationally, people over age 65 make up 16.8 percent of the population; in the territory, they comprise 21.3 percent of the total.
  • The WIC (Women, Infants and Children) nutritional assistance program in the Virgin Islands boasts the largest number of participants who breastfeed of any WIC program in the country.
  • The Police Department reports that 58.6 percent of child riders in vehicles are not using proper protective restraints.

Collecting and publishing the data is just the beginning. In a formal presentation Tuesday morning, officials from the St. Croix Foundation stressed the importance of sharing information and using it to formulate policy and distribute resources.

“We really need people to use the data,” said Deanna James, foundation president.

And while the data points may seem random, “Everything is connected to everything,” said Anna Wheatley Scarbriel, director of special projects for the St. Croix Foundation.

The Kids Count program has been sponsored for decades by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in communities throughout the U.S., including the territory. This is the fourth year that the St. Croix Foundation has been the local partner for the project.

The 2023 report for US Virgin Islands can be found here.

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