June 24, 2013

Maine kids rate high in health, worse on family economics

The state holds on to its 13th place national ranking in the annual Kids Count survey released Monday.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Maine held on to its 13th place national ranking of children's overall well-being, with improvements in 10 of 16 measures of economic standing, education, health, and family and community, according to an annual survey released Monday.


• Maine ranks 13th in the nation for children's overall well-being.

• 19 percent of Maine children live in poverty, up from 17 percent in 2005.

• The state's health indicators for kids improved across the board.

The 2013 Kids Count survey, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, indicated that Maine kids fared worst on measures of their families' economic well-being and best on physical health indicators. In fact, Maine ranked first among the states in terms of the health of its children, sixth on family and community measures and 20th in both education and economic well-being indicators.

The survey found that health indicators for Maine kids improved across the board, with decreases in the percentage of babies with low birth weight, children without health insurance, child and teen death rates, and the percentage of teenagers abusing alcohol or drugs.

That last category showed the greatest improvement, with 6 percent of teenagers with substance abuse problems in 2010-11, nearly half the 11 percent recorded in 2005-06.

But Maine children's well-being declined in three of four economic categories. The survey found that 19 percent of Maine children lived in poverty in 2011, up from 17 percent in 2005. A third of Maine children's parents lack secure jobs, up from 29 percent in 2008, and 38 percent live in households burdened with a high cost of housing, up from 33 percent in 2005.

The only economic measure where Maine registered an improvement was in the percentage of teenagers who weren't either in school or working, which was 6 percent in the most recent year covered -- 2011 -- compared to 8 percent in 2008.

Maine children notched improvement in educational measures, with decreases in the percentage of children not attending pre-school, the number of eighth-graders failing to test as proficient in math, and the percentage of high school students failing to graduate on time. The only measure where Maine children slipped was on those who tested not proficient in reading -- 68 percent in 2011, up from 65 percent in 2005.

On family and community measures, Maine children fared better in this year's survey than last year's, with a lower percentage of kids living in families whose head of household lacks a high school diploma and fewer teenagers giving birth. But more children lived in single-parent families and more children lived in high poverty areas than in prior years.

Maine's overall ranking in 2013 held steady, but the state's rankings in education, health, and family and community categories rose from last year's Kids Count survey, while economic well-being slipped from 18th nationally to 20th.

Some year-to-year comparisons aren't completely valid because the survey sometimes changes the measures it looks at in coming up with the rankings.

Kids Count officials said they hope the survey is used by policymakers to determine where to focus in trying to improve kids' well-being and by grant-making organizations to help target aid to areas where children are most in need of help. 

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at emurphy@pressherald.com


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