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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New Hampshire slides back in KIDS COUNT national ranking

After a decade ranked as the best state in the country to raise a child, New Hampshire slipped to fourth place in the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book released Tuesday. Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa now score higher in the annual assessment of child well-being.

Of the four major categories of assessment, New Hampshire performed the worst in “economic well-being,” losing ground in the areas of “children in poverty,” “children whose parents lack secure employment,” “children in households with high housing cost burden” and “teens not in school and not working.” ...

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After a decade ranked as the best state in the country to raise a child, New Hampshire slipped to fourth place in the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book released Tuesday. Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa now score higher in the annual assessment of child well-being.

Of the four major categories of assessment, New Hampshire performed the worst in “economic well-being,” losing ground in the areas of “children in poverty,” “children whose parents lack secure employment,” “children in households with high housing cost burden” and “teens not in school and not working.”

The state showed the most progress in education, improving in the areas of “children not attending preschool,” “fourth graders not proficient in reading,” “eighth graders not proficient in math,” and “high school students not graduating in time.”

One problem area cited by the report is the child poverty rate, which rose from 9 percent to 16 percent between 2005 and 2012, for a total of 42,000 children.

“The consensus of modern research is that there are toxic stressors associated with child poverty. There’s a clear disruption in brain development caused by these stressors,” said Terry Smith, director of the Division of Family Assistance at the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. “I don’t think this is an acceptable situation for anyone in New Hampshire.”

Patricia Casey, chief development officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua, said the poverty increase has been felt at the Club. “In addition to busing kids from Nashua’s 13 public schools, we have about 350 members who are part of our evening transportation program – an increase of almost 20 percent in the last year or so.”

Casey said, “Nearly three quarters of our membership come from low-income households and those parents have shared with us that they rely on the Club for childcare purposes because they can afford it at $35 per year.”

The number of parents in the state lacking secure employment has also increased 24 percent since the 2008 recession. Children in households with a high housing costs rose 39 percent and the number of unemployed, out-of-school teens increased by 6 percent.

Following national trends, overall state well-being improved in education and health. More children are attending preschool while fewer children are uninsured while the number of teens abusing alcohol and drugs has also gone down. New Hampshire improved in every education category, ranking fourth for education in the U.S. The state ranked 13th for health, showing improvement across all health indicators except a 0.3 percent increase in low-birth weight babies.

“While we are pleased New Hampshire saw improvements in education, health and safety, we’re deeply concerned that the economic well-being of New Hampshire’s children is not improving, “ said Ellen Fineberg, executive director of NH Kids Count, in a July statement released by the organization. “New Hampshire’s future vitality is in question.”

Nationally, the official child poverty rate dropped from 18 percent to 16 percent from 1990 to 2000, but rose to 22 percent by 2010. In 2012, about 16.4 million children were living in poverty.

New Hampshire ranked first in the “family and community” section. The teen birthrate improved, with a rate of 14 births per 1,000 female teens compared to 18 births per 1,000 in 2005. The percentage of children living in high-poverty areas remained unchanged as did the percentage of children living in a household headed by a high school graduate. The number of children living in a single-parent household increased to 30 percent from 24 percent in 2005 for a total of 80,000 children.

The lowest ranking states for overall child well-being are Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi.

The data book, an initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, collects data on child well-being from each state and D.C. The findings are available online at the KIDS COUNT Data Center, datacenter.kidscount.org. The Foundation has been publishing data in its KIDS COUNT Data Book for 25 years.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).