Maryland has improved its ranking in the most recent edition of a national survey that measures conditions for children, moving to 22nd in the country this year on the strength of its wealth and the declining numbers of students dropping out of school.
But Jann Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth in Baltimore, said that although Maryland is doing better, the gap between its haves and have-nots is larger than that of other states.
Maryland remained near the bottom of the country in its rate of infant deaths and low-weight babies, according to the annual Kids Count Data Book, which is to be released today in Washington, D.C.
Maryland ranked best in its rate of child poverty, which was seventh-lowest in the nation. Fourteen percent of Maryland children lived below the federal poverty line in 1996, compared to 21 percent nationally, according to the report. The median income for a Maryland family in 1997 was $58,200, according to the national report - second only to Connecticut's $59,500.
"We are the second-richest state, and yet well-being is still in the middle of the pack," Jackson said. "We've done an amazing job at decreasing our welfare caseloads, but we have not done an amazing job at lifting children out of poverty."
The report, sponsored by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, found that many children in the United States have no access to modern amenities - cars, telephones and computers. The study found that 8 percent of children lived in homes without phones in 1998, and that almost half had no computer.
In Maryland, both percentages were better than the national average. Five percent of children in the state had no phone in 1998, and 35 percent lacked computers.
Overall, the state attained its best ranking since the first Kids Count report in 1990.
Its worst ranking was 30th in 1998, although indicators vary from year to year. In recent years, the rate of juvenile arrests - an area of trouble for the state several years ago - was removed from the survey. Maryland placed 24th overall in last year's rankings.
Based largely on 1997 statistics, the 2000 report examines 10 indicators of child well-being from state to state. Maryland's worst categories historically have been infant mortality and low-birthweight babies. While the state has improved its infant mortality rate - with 8.8 of every 1,000 children born dying before their first birthday in 1997, compared with 9.5 in 1990 - the rest of the country has improved more. The national rate of infant mortality in 1997 was 7.2 deaths for every 1,000 births.
At the same time, the percentage of low-weight babies in Maryland has gotten worse, from 7.8 percent in 1990 to 8.8 percent in 1997. The national rate increased as well, but not as dramatically.
The state ranked ninth in its percentage of teen-agers who had dropped out of high school, with 7 percent in 1997 compared to 10 percent nationally. Maryland also had a greater share of parents employed full-time, ranking 11th.
A separate but related state Kids Count fact book, issued a month ago by Advocates for Children and Youth, found Maryland improving in 11 of 18 indicators. That survey found that violence-related suspensions from school had gone up 20 percent over the past six years, and that almost a quarter of high school students were absent 20 or more days during the 1998-99 school year.