Twin States Top All In Child Well-Being

The Twin States once again rank as the best in the country when it comes to children’s well-being.

New Hampshire remained the top state and Vermont was second, moving up a spot from last year in the annual Kid’s Count Data Book released yesterday from The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

States are ranked according to a variety of measures of “well-being,” including economic factors, education, health and safety.

Based on data from 2010 and 2011, there are fewer children in New Hampshire without health insurance; the teen birth rate has dropped by 11 percent to an historic low; and the rate of high school students not graduating in four years has declined. The teen death rate also has decreased.

Vermont improved in eight areas, including the percentage of children with health insurance and rate of teen births. But it fell slightly in economic factors, such as the percentage of children with parents who lack secure employment — to 29 percent or 36,000 children — and the 36 percent of children who lived in households with a high housing cost burden in 2011, up from 33 percent in 2005.

“I am extremely proud that Vermont has improved its childhood wellness ranking for three straight years,” said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin in a statement. “We make our children our number one priority in Vermont. But we can’t be satisfied; Vermont should lead the nation in ensuring that all children have the opportunity to live healthy, productive lives.”

The negative impact of the recession remains evident. Just like last year, the data showed an increase in New Hampshire children living in high poverty areas. In 2011, the child poverty rate stood at 12 percent in the state, or 33,000 children — an increase of 2,000 children since 2009. Fifteen percent of Vermont’s children lived in poverty in 2011, an amount unchanged from 2005 to 2011.

“We know that we still have work to do to improve the lives of children in our state,” said Ellen Fineberg, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of New Hampshire.

The survey showed that the number of children living in households in New Hampshire where both parents lack full-time employment — 65,000 in 2011 — is a minor improvement from 2010. But it was still more than 4,000 more than in 2008. Nationally, the number of children whose parents lacked full-time employment throughout the year was nearly 20 percent higher than in 2008.

Overall, Vermont ranked third in the country in education and family and community and fourth in health. The state had improved in the percentages of fourth graders who were proficient in reading and the percentage of eighth graders proficient in math between 2005 and 2011. And the state saw a drop in the percentage of students who didn’t graduate on time, from 18 percent in 2005-2006 school year to 9 percent in 2009-2010, compared to 22 percent nationwide.

In children’s health, just 2 percent of Vermont kids lacked insurance compared to 7 percent nationally. In the family and community measurement, 32 percent of Vermont children lived in single-parent households in 2011 while the rate of teen births dropped slightly to 18 per 1,000 births, compared to 34 per 1,000 nationally.

“This report provides a valuable tool for looking at our state’s progress over time and in comparison with the rest of the nation,” said Sarah Teel, research associate at Voices for Vermont’s Children. “But it is important to recognize where the bar needs to be set, which is that every child has the opportunity to thrive — to grow up healthy, safe and economically secure. We are clearly still far from that goal. There is no acceptable level of child poverty.”

New Hampshire and Vermont were followed by Massachusetts as the top-three states. Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico were at the bottom.