Recession Likely to Leave Kids Worse Off, Casey Study Finds

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009; 10:44 PM

Even before the recession, the health and well-being of a significant number of American children were growing worse, according to an authoritative report issued Tuesday.

The Kids Count assessment by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an advocacy group that funds programs designed to help disadvantaged children and families, concluded that their situation changed only modestly during the boom years of this decade and by some measures declined.

Because the most recent statistics in the report date to 2006 and 2007, the cusp of the recession, the report does not reflect the effect of rising unemployment among parents since then.

"Our takeaway is that even going into the recession, the economic outlook for a lot of families was dire," said Laura Beavers, the national Kids Count coordinator. "There was a flattening of the median income, and the poverty level was creeping up year after year."

The Casey Foundation is considered one of the most authoritative sources for evaluating programs affecting children, particularly those from low-income families. The Kids Count report examines 10 key indicators culled from the Census and other government statistics.

The figures showed slight improvements in six areas since 2000, including infant mortality, high school dropout rates and the percentage of teens neither attending school nor working.

But the report noted that teenage pregnancies, although lower than in 2000, are on the rise for the first time in more than a decade in all but nine states and the District. Maryland and Virginia both saw small increases in teen pregnancy.

And there was an increase in the rates of children living in poverty, in homes with single parents or whose parents were unemployed.

Some regional differences stood out. States in New England and the Northern Plains all scored relatively high in an overall composite of the 10 indicators. The 10 lowest-ranking states were all in the South or Southwest.

Virginia and Maryland declined in the 50-state rankings. Virginia slipped from 15th to 16th, and Maryland slid from 19th to 25th.

The District was not ranked because it's a city, but it saw improvements almost across the board. The percentage of children living in poverty, for example, decreased from 30 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2007. But the decline might be a reflection of poor families being priced out of gentrifying neighborhoods.

From last year's report to this year's, Maryland fell in relation to other states in seven of the 10 categories, including most of those concerning health. Its infant mortality rate rose from 7.3 for every 1,000 births in 2005 to 7.9 in 2006; in this category, its ranking among all states dropped from 31st to 39th. The percentage of low-birth-weight babies went from 9.1 percent in 2005 to 9.4 percent; its ranking fell from 39th to 43rd. However, it had the second-lowest percentage of children living in poverty (behind New Hampshire), with 10 percent below the 2007 threshold.

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