Hawaii ranks low in child economic well-being, worse mental health after pandemic


Nicole Pasia


Hawaiʻi children and youth are experiencing lower levels of economic well-being and education, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report also found Hawaiʻi youth were more likely to have depression and anxiety after the first year of the COVID pandemic. 


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The annual Kids Count Data Book tracks 16 indicators in 4 categories relating to child well-being, which are then used to rank states. In 2022, Hawaiʻi ranks 22nd overall. While the state ranks relatively high in child health (5th in the nation), it ranks in the bottom third for child economic well-being (34th) and education (35th). Hawaiʻi ranks 15th in the final category, family and community context. 

According to some education and economic well-being measures from the Data Book, Hawaii ranks in the bottom 10 states. Hawaiʻi ranked near the bottom (48th) for children living in households with a high housing cost burden (more than 30% of income). About 111,000 of all children in the state (37%) fit this category, higher than the nationwide average of 30%. Additionally, 9% of teens aged 16-19 (9%) in Hawaiʻi did not attend school or work, ranking at 43rd in the nation. 

“Years of public underinvestment in Hawaiʻi’s keiki have led to these disturbing statistics, which should be a wake-up call to everyone who cares about the future of our state,” said Deborah Zysman, executive director of Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network, Hawaiʻi’s member of the KIDS COUNT network, in a statement. “The upcoming election is a chance for voters to ask candidates how they’re going to make the profound changes our keiki need and deserve.”

Health-wise, one reason Hawaiʻi ranks highly is a low rate of children without health insurance (9,000 children, or 3%), due to enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Hawaiʻi also has the nation’s second-lowest child and teen death rate. 

However, the report also cited 2,200 more children struggling with anxiety or depression in 2020 compared to 2016, a 23% increase. With rising concern about the effects of the pandemic on child mental health, Hawaiʻi is looking to invest in supportive programs. 

In March 2022, Kaiser Permanente awarded a $50,000 grant to Mental Health America of Hawaiʻi to provide 1,300 youth and supportive individuals with “evidence-informed suicide prevention and bullying prevention training.” The funding also enables individuals in rural areas of Oahu, Hawaiʻi Island, and Kauai to access the program.