Children living in poverty longer, putting their futures at risk

Educational and health levels improved for the nation’s children during the recession, but more children are living longer in poverty, putting their futures at risk, according to a report issued Monday.

The Kids Count assessment by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an advocacy group for children and families, said that more children have health insurance coverage since before the recession, in 2005. In addition, there have been drops in childhood deaths, teenage births and teen substance abuse. It said that in most states, there were improvements in reading and math scores, high school graduation rates and the percentage of children in preschool.

However, it found more children living in poverty than before the economic crisis, despite a slight improvement over the past year.

“We hope as we go forward we’ll see continued improvement,” said Patrick McCarthy, president of the Casey Foundation. “But we’re concerned about the longterm impact of the recession. Research suggests that children who spend extended periods of time in poverty are more likely to drop out of school, become pregnant and are less likely to [find permanent] work. Over the long term, they have a tough time transitioning to adulthood.”

The Kids Count report found striking regional differences. Most of the states with the best measures for child welfare were in the Northeast and most with the worst scores were in the South and Southwest.

Both Maryland and Virginia showed improvements.

In Maryland, there was a 10 percent decline in high school dropouts and a 16 percent decline in the teen birth rate between 2005 and 2010. However, 179,000 Maryland children, or 14 percent, were living in poverty in 2011, an increase of 27 percent since 2005.

Virginia also showed a broad range of improvements in educational achievement and the health status of children. Just 19 percent of high school students didn’t graduate on time, down from 26 percent only eight years ago. The teen birth rate fell significantly, to 27 per thousand, from 34 per thousand in 2005. But the child poverty rate of 15 percent rose and exceeded the overall state poverty rate of 12 percent.

The District also showed marked improvements in educational achievement, with more children attending preschool, and showing proficiency in reading and math.

But in a particularly troubling statistic, the report noted that 12 percent of District teenagers between 16 and 19 were neither in school nor working in jobs in 2011, up from 9 percent in 2008. The national rate of 8 percent did not change during the same three-year period.

About 30 percent of children in the District live in poverty, the report said. This represents a decrease of two percentage points over six years. It is higher than the national average of 23 percent, but compared to the 50 largest cities it’s in the middle, at the same level as Tulsa, Louisville, Fort Worth, Oakland and New York City.

McCarthy said the level of youth participation in the job market has been declining since before the recession. The major reason, he said, is that more older workers are competing for low-paying jobs that are typical entry-level jobs for young people. Employment in this age group is at the lowest level since 1950, Casey has said in an earlier report.

McCarthy said more advances are needed. For example, he noted that while educational attainment levels have improved, still 68 percent of fourth graders can’t read at their level nationwide, and 66 percent of eighth graders aren’t proficient in math.

“There are a number of encouraging statistics, particularly in the area of education,” he said, “with the caveat that it’s an improvement from dismal to just awful.”

Carol Morello is the diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, covering the State Department.
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