Maryland, which has seen improvements in childhood education and health in recent years, ranks No. 10 in the country for overall child well-being, according to a report released today by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Despite the high ranking for the second year in a row — Maryland was also 10th last year — children in the state have lost ground in some measures, including a growing number of them living in poverty since the recession, the foundation said.
"We're a big believer in going to where the data takes you," said Patrick T. McCarthy, the foundation's president and CEO. "What the data shows on the economic well-being of children since 2005, Maryland and other states have slipped. The recovery has been awfully slow."
This is the 24th year that Casey has produced the Kids Count Data Book, which tracks trends in children's health and economic status state-by-state. Last year, the foundation revised its yardstick, and now looks at 16 indicators of health, education, economic well-being and family and community. The 2013 Kids County Data Book generally compared data from 2011 and 2005, which is two years before the start of the recession.
New Hampshire ranked first in the nation for overall child well-being, followed by Vermont and Massachusetts. For the first time, Mississippi did not come in last, but moved to the 49th position, followed by New Mexico.
Maryland did better than its nearest neighbors. Virginia is close behind in 11th place, Pennsylvania is No. 17, Delaware No. 22 and West Virginia is 37th. The District of Columbia wasn't ranked.
Al Passarella, a research coordinator with the nonprofit Advocates for Children and Youth, said he's pleased by Maryland's 10th place ranking, but troubled by some of the report's findings.
One disturbing statistic is the lack of affordable housing, he said. The study found that 41 percent of children in Maryland, or 546,000 of them, lived in homes with high housing costs, up from 35 percent six years earlier.
"We have tremendous resources in the state," such as hospitals and public transportation, Passarella said. "It's difficult when you start seeing more and more people who can't afford to live near those resources."
Passarella said it also is troubling that 4 percent of Maryland children live in high-poverty areas, raising their chances of attending lower-performing schools or having parents who can't find meaningful employment.
"Four percent is not as high as other states. It's high for us," he said. "We are such a wealthy state."
Marylanders enjoy the highest median income in the country, but Passarella notes that there are pockets of poverty in Baltimore, Prince George's County and even in affluent Montgomery County. In certain Baltimore neighborhoods, he added, the unemployment rate is as much as 30 percent to 35 percent.
McCarthy and Passarella said what's needed is a "two-generation strategy," in which policymakers focus on improving the economic conditions of parents which, in turn, improves the well-being of their children.
"A child is more likely to be successful if he or she is living in a family where the parents have opportunities, decent jobs and a sense of success of their own," McCarthy said.
Among the different categories, Maryland made gains in education and health, but remained the same in economic well-being of its children. The state slipped slightly in the category of family and community.
Other highlights in the report:
• The rate of Maryland children living in poverty rose to 14 percent, or 179,000 children, compared with 11 percent in 2005.
• 367,000 children, or 27 percent, have parents who lacked secure employment, up from 21 percent in 2008.
•A 4 percentage point increase in the number of children attending preschool in 2009 to 2011, compared to four years earlier.
•Thirty-seven percent, or 468,000 children, live in single-parent households, up from 32 percent six years earlier.
•Childhood deaths dropped to 24 out of 100,000 in 2010, down from 30 five years earlier.
On a national level, the child poverty rate increased to 23 percent in 2011 and about 12 percent of children lived in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, the foundation reported.