New Hampshire has long enjoyed the top spot in the annual Kids Count index, which ranks the relative health, safety, and education of children from state to state. But in the most recent ranking, released earlier today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, New Hampshire fell from first to fourth among the states for child well-being.
What’s behind this drop?
First, let’s look at the workings behind the rankings. The Kids Count index is broken down into four categories: economic well-being; education; health; and family and community. Each category contains four measurements, and the index compares each state’s 2014 data to the data for the same measurements in 2005. In most areas, New Hampshire’s numbers improved or held steady from previous years.
But in one area of particular, the state saw drops across the board: economic well-being.
The measurements in this category include child poverty rate, children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in a household with high housing cost burden, and teens out of school and not working. In each of those measurements, New Hampshire’s numbers are worse than in 2005.
The child poverty rate, in particular, saw a big change, according to the Kids Count data, which is based on the U.S. Census’s annual American Community Survey (ACS). The New Hampshire child poverty rate in 2012 was 15.6 percent, with a 2.1 percent margin of error, according to the ACS data. The previous year, the state child poverty rate was 12 percent. New Hampshire saw the largest single-year jump in child poverty rate of any state (though the margin of error for New Hampshire also among the largest, since the state has one of the smallest population of the states, and is thus more subject to fluctuations in the survey data.)
That the state’s poverty rate for children has increased is not news. We can also consult data from the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program of the Census, which allows us to compare annual poverty rates over a longer period of time. Since 2003, New Hampshire has seen child poverty rate increase from an estimated 7.8 percent to 13.6 percent in 2012 – a roughly 74 percent increase.
Across that same time period, child poverty rates in the US generally increased by a relatively smaller amount: 28 percent.
The economic well-being measure may be the most important for the overall well-being and success of a child. Research indicates that living in poverty can impede a child’s cognitive development, and children from low-income households typically fare worse on measures of academic success, such as test scores and high school graduation rates.
There was also plenty of good news in the recent Kids Count data too. New Hampshire earned the top spot among the states in the family and community ranking, which takes into account measures such as the percent of children in single-parent families, children living in high-poverty areas, and teen births.
In the education category, which measured the percentage of children not in preschool, math and reading levels, and high school graduation rates, New Hampshire did quite well, also. In each of those measures, New Hampshire actually saw an improvement in every measurement since 2005. (New Hampshire’s full data profile can be found here.)
It’s important to note: In all but two of the index’s 16 data measurements, New Hampshire scored better than the national rate. The two places where New Hampshire lagged behind the rest of the country were in the percentage of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs (7 percent for New Hampshire, vs. 6 percent nationally) and the percentage of children in a household with high housing cost burden (39 percent for New Hampshire vs. 38 percent nationwide.)
New Hampshire is in a relatively high-ranking region of the country when it comes to child well-being. Two of our neighbors – Massachusetts and Vermont – shot past New Hampshire in the rankings and now occupy the first and second slots, respectively. Maine ranked 14th overall. Rounding out New England, Connecticut ranked 7th, and Rhode Island was at 26th place among the 50 states.
For more information on this year’s Kids Count report, go to www.aecf.org/resources/the-2014-kids-count-data-book.