Study: Md. child poverty among lowest in U.S.; death rates higher

Maryland has one of the lowest rates of childhood poverty in the nation, but is in the middle of the pack in overall children's well-being, according to a report released Wednesday by the Baltimore-basedAnnie E. Casey Foundation.

The state is 23rd overall in the 2011 Kids Count Data Book, an annual assessment of child welfare organized with the help of local child advocacy groups. Maryland ranks two spots better than last year's report, but continues to have relatively high child and infant death rankings.

Since 2000, the average nationwide child poverty rate increased 18 percent, according to the report. The recent economic recession, it concludes, "effectively wiped out all of the gains we made in cutting child poverty in the late 1990s."

"The recession really disassembled a wonderful movement forward," said Becky Wagner, the executive director of Advocates for Children & Youth, the Kids Count organization for Maryland.

Poverty, for purposes of this report, was income in 2009 below about $22,000 for a family of two adults and two children. In Maryland, child poverty decreased 8 percent over the decade.

New Hampshire, Connecticut and Utah are the only states other than Maryland with child poverty rates of 12 percent or less. But all three of those states are ranked within the top seven spots overall while Maryland lags almost halfway down the list, which measures the most recent data available for 10 key categories.

The child death rate in Maryland, out of sync with the nation's decline in child deaths, did not improve between 2000 and 2007, staying at 21 deaths per 100,000 children between the ages of 1 and 14.

Maryland has some of the worst rates in the country for infant health. The state is 42nd in infant mortality, with 8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2007, and 41st for percent of low-birth weight babies, at 9.2 percent in 2008.

As part of the foundation's effort to determine the recession's influence on children, for the first time the number of children affected by foreclosure and the number of households with at least one unemployed parent were included in the analysis.

Since 2007, about 4 percent of Maryland's children, the same as the nation overall, were in households that experienced foreclosures. In 2010, about 8 percent of the state's children were living in households with at least one unemployed parent, slightly less than the 11 percent nationwide.

Foreclosure and its frequent precursor, a parent's job loss, can begin a negative domino-effect for a child's welfare, said Wagner.

"That lack of security is really a game-changer," she said.

The teen death rate, teen birth rate, percent of teens not in school and not high school graduates, and the percent of children in poverty have all improved in Maryland since 2000, according to the report.

The main child welfare indicators that have not improved in Maryland since 2000 include the percent of low-birth weight babies, the infant mortality rate and the percent of children in single-parent families.

Wagner hopes that legislation passed this year by the General Assembly to assist low-income women receive family planning health care will improve Maryland's infant health rates.

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