Report shows children in state are enjoying improved well-being

Despite overall gains, some advocates say greater effort is required

May 22, 2001|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Declines in school dropout rates, teen suicides and accidental deaths helped boost Maryland's standing for the third year in a row in a nationwide survey of children's well-being.

The state ranked 19th in the nation in the most recent edition of the Kids Count Data Book, which is to be released today by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Maryland was 22nd in last year's edition of the survey, and 24th in 1999.

Despite the improvement, children's advocates say Maryland's youngsters should be faring even better than they are in the most affluent state in the country.

"The continuing stunning statistic is that Maryland now has the highest median household income of any state in the country and yet children in Baltimore City, approximately one in three, live in poverty," said Jann Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth in Baltimore. "That gap remains the profound challenge."

Maryland's showing this year was its best since the Kids Count ranking was first released 11 years ago. The latest study uses data largely from 1998, the most recent year for which information is available.

In the past eight years, the state has witnessed 30 percent fewer teens dropping out of high school and has seen a 4 percent decrease in the number of families headed by single parents.

Maryland improved in the category that tracks the deaths of teen-agers by accident, suicide or murder. The state has the 25th-lowest violent-death rate for teens. It was in 36th place in 1990, said Jennean Everett-Reynolds, director of the Maryland version of Kids Count at Advocates for Children and Youth. But while the percentage of accidents and suicides has decreased, Everett-Reynolds said, the teen murder rates have remained the same.

Maryland had the second-highest teen homicide rate in the nation, she said, with 29 such deaths per 100,000 youths. The highest teen murder rate was in Washington.

Maryland also ranked poorly in the categories that track the incidence of babies with low birth weight and of infant mortality, ranking 42nd and 41st respectively.

Nationwide, the infant mortality rate has improved since 1990, and Maryland's has improved as well -- but at a slower rate than the rest of the country. Maryland's infant mortality rate has gone down 9 percent since 1990, compared to 22 percent nationally.

These low rankings stand out in a state that has the highest median income among families with children. In 1998, the median income was $63,400, according to the study, compared to $45,600 nationally. In Washington, the median income was $30,100 -- which puts it "dead last" in the national rankings, Everett-Reynolds said.

Maryland posted its best performance in the category that measures the percentage of children living in families where the parents do not have year-round, full-time employment. Less than 20 percent of Maryland children lived in such households in 1998, which puts Maryland fourth in the national rankings.

Maryland also had one of the lowest percentages of children living in poverty, ranking 8th.

Jackson said she was pleased to hear that Maryland had risen to 19th in the nation, up from 27th in 1990. She attributed the improvement to generous federal funding, a strong economy and the support of child advocates in the state.

"We have proven that we really can change these massive social indicators," she said. "We really need to continue to renew our efforts to now make it from 19th up to the top 10."

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