Mixed grades for Md. in report on children

Lowest share of kids with out-of-work parents, but high infant mortality

May 23, 2002|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Maryland has a smaller share of children living with unemployed parents than any other state, according to a national report on how children fare across America. But it ranks close to the bottom in low-birth-weight babies and infant mortality, with a greater percentage than most other states.

"Kids Count 2002," an annual report of the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranked Maryland 21st among states on 10 indicators of child well-being -- down from 19th place last year. The report is based largely on 1999 statistics, the last year for which the foundation says it can gather reliable national data.

Maryland had the second-lowest share of its children living in poverty, with 13 percent to the nation's 19 percent.

But the biggest improvement came in the proportion of the state's children who lived in homes where neither parent worked. That fell from 26 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 1999, while the national level dropped from 30 percent in 1990 to 25 percent nine years later.

Douglas Nelson, president of the Casey Foundation, called that measure "good news" for Maryland -- an indicator of a robust '90s economy making a difference for children.

"How well we're doing as the economy slows is a question to be vigilant about," he said.

The report also measured the number of children living in families in which at least one parent worked full time, yet the household brought in less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level -- an amount low enough to qualify for many government aid programs. Nine percent of Maryland's children lived in such families in 1999, compared with 15 percent across the country.

The state continued to perform poorly in the number of children who weigh too little at birth and the number who die early.

The state ranked 45th in the birth-weight category, with 9 percent of its children born in 1999 weighing less than 5.5 pounds. A separate Casey report this year ranked Baltimore last in that category among the largest 50 American cities.

The report also ranked the state near the bottom in infant mortality, finding that for every 1,000 Maryland children born that year, 8.4 died before their first birthdays.

The time lag in "Kids Count" statistics sometimes leads local officials to question its accuracy, saying recent improvements often aren't reflected. For example, state officials announced last year an 11 percent drop in the infant mortality rate between 1999 and 2000, saying fewer babies were dying in Maryland than ever before.

But mindful of the problem of infants at risk, the Maryland Commission on Infant Mortality Prevention started two weeks ago a $1 million public awareness campaign to encourage pregnant women to take care of themselves and see a doctor regularly. "We definitely want to do better," said Cleo Manuel Stamatos, spokeswoman for the Governor's Office of Children, Youth and Families.

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