Fewer Maryland children are living in high-poverty neighborhoods than a decade ago, but the lingering economic slump has left more parents without a steady paycheck, theAnnie E. Casey Foundationreported Wednesday.
The Baltimore-based charity ranks Maryland 10th in the nation for overall child well-being in its 2012 Kids Count Data Book, which analyzed nationwide research and statistics on children's economic well-being, education, health, family and community.
Becky Wagner, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, said the report shows that the state has made "good, solid advancements," but Maryland must keep working to close the remaining gaps. Wagner's nonprofit group collects the Kids Count data for the state.
"Maryland's children have a right to the basics — quality education, access to healthcare, and safe and economically secure households," Wagner said in a statement.
The state's biggest improvement came in the rate of children living in poor areas, which dropped by 25 percent from 2000 to 2010. A high-poverty neighborhood is defined as an area in which about a third of the population is impoverished. While the rate for Baltimore remained mostly flat, the concentration of high-poverty areas across the state declined.
Other Maryland-specific findings include:
•A 13 percent increase in children in single-parent households from 2005 to 2010.
•A 24 percent increase in children whose parents lack secure employment from 2008 to 2010.
•A 17 percent reduction in the child and teen death rate from 2005 to 2009.
•A 16 percent decrease in the number of fourth-graders not proficient in reading from 2005 to 2011.
•A 14 percent decrease in the number of eighth-graders not proficient in math from 2005 to 2011.
•No change in the rate of low-birth weight babies, which remained at 9.1 percent from 2005 to 2009.
Findings were similar across the country, the Casey Foundation found. The report says children continued to become healthier and make academic gains while their economic well-being suffered. Nationally, the death rate for children and teens fell as did the proportion of high school students who don't graduate in four years. Meanwhile, across the country, the number of children whose parents lack secure employment jumped 22 percent in just two years.
Laura Speer, the Casey Foundation's associate director for policy reform and data, said the goal is to convince state leadership to use the data to make future strategic investments.
"We hope that policy makers will use the report to pinpoint areas where there have been successes and areas that need improvement," Speer said. "Investing in the next generation is critical."
Nan Marie Astone, associate professor with the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the Kids Count report can help assess the long term needs of Maryland children. As more children are raised in single-parent households, she said state leaders can think about creating more after-school programs or fostering more mentoring relationships.
"As children grow up they need certain assets to have a good life in adulthood," Astone said. "The main thing we as scholars and policymakers need to do is go beyond the Kids Count data and find out what accounts for … these trends. Our future is on the line."
Maryland's highest ranking was in education, at number six. Maryland placed 11th in health and 14th in economic well-being.
The state's lowest ranking — 19th — came in the family and community category that gauges the extent to which families and neighborhoods use social resources to nurture children.
The Casey Foundation has produced the Kids Count Data Book since 1990, but for the first time this year, the charity changed the makeup of the study from 10 to 16 indicators. That change makes a year-to-year comparison difficult.
In previous years, the state had ranked middle of the pack, coming in at 23rd overall in 2011 and 25th in 2010.