New Hampshire remains the top state for children’s overall well-being, says an annual national report that again ranks Mississippi the worst.
Based on 2010 statistics focusing on education and health, the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kid's Count Data Book released Wednesday also said more children and families across the United States are facing poverty and economic instability.
"The economic well-being of children and families has plummeted because of the recession," researchers at the non-profit youth advocacy group reported.
The report used 16 indicators to assess child well-being in four areas: economic well-being, family and community, education, and health.
Massachusetts rose to second-best state from fifth, followed by Vermont, which previously was eighth. At the bottom, besides Mississippi, the report said, were No. 49 New Mexico, formerly 43rd, and Nevada, which fell to 48th from 39th.
The three most populous states ranked in the bottom half of overall child well-being: California, the most populous state, fell to 41st from 16th; Texas fell to 44th from 34th; and New York fell to 29th from 17th.
New Hampshire, the foundation said, showed progress in half of 16 indicators, including on-time high school graduation rates, and one of the best records of children covered by health insurance.
But the data also showed an increase in New Hampshire for children living in high poverty areas and an increase since 2005 in single-parent families, which now includes about 27 percent of children, the foundation said.
A more troubling finding, children advocates said, is a 19 percent jump from 2008 to 2010 in the rate of children with parents who did not have secure employment in the wake of the recession.
"We remain concerned about the economic security of our children, with a rise in the poverty rate, and the percent whose parents lack secure employment," said Ellen Fineberg, executive director of The Children's Alliance of New Hampshire.
New Hampshire has had the report's highest score in the country, based on different indicators, in 10 of the past 11 years.
Among other national findings:
- 2.4 million more children slipped into poverty from 2005 to 2010, rising to 15.7 million from 13.3 million.
- In 36 states and the District of Columbia, at least one in three children lived in households that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.
- The number of fourth-graders scoring less than proficient in reading dropped in 35 states and the District of Columbia, with Maryland and Alabama seeing the greatest improvement.
- Child poverty rates rose in 43 states.
- Vermont and Virginia led among 47 states that saw their child and teen death rates decline.
The results drew a variety of responses.
"When families are spending a lot of their income on housing, they are at risk of not being able to afford other things like health care and quality child care," Jessica Mindnich, an associate research director with Children Now of Oakland, Calif., told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Noah Berger, the president of the nonpartisan Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said he believes his state's high scores in health and education are the direct result of laws that have overhauled those systems in the state. He pointed to the 2006 health care law, signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, which requires nearly all state residents to have health insurance or face penalties.
In Oklahoma , which rose to 40th from 43rd, more children were covered by insurance and the child and teenage death rate fell, Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy director Linda Terrell said, adding that she hopes the state's elected officials will use the report to help bring children out of poverty.
"This data should spur government to action," echoed Kentucky Youth Advocates Director Terry Brooks. Kentucky was ranked 35th, up from 41st.
This article includes reporting by Reuters, The Associated Press and NBC News’ Jim Gold.
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