South Carolina has slipped two spots to 45th in the nation in child well-being as more Palmetto State children live in poverty, in single-parent homes and with parents who lack secure jobs.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count report, released Monday, ranks child well-being on four factors: economic well-being, education, health and family, and community.
Only Louisiana, Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico — ranked 46th through 50th, respectively — trail South Carolina. States in the Southeast, Southwest and Appalachia — the country’s poorest states, according to the study — occupy the bottom of the rankings.
The states that rank highest for children well-being are New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey, ranked first through fifth, respectively.
“Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development,” said Sue Williams, chief executive officer for Children’s Trust of South Carolina.
“Poverty and financial stress can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn,” she said. “It can contribute to behavioral, social and emotional problems, and poor health. The risks posed by economic hardship are greatest among children who experience poverty when they are young and among children who experience persistent and deep poverty.”
The Great Recession and the persistently high unemployment rate that has followed took the greatest toll on children, as their economic well-being dropped to 44th from 34th in the nation, the report said.
In 2011, 35 percent of children — or 381,000 — had parents who lacked secure jobs, up from 30 percent in 2008. Twenty-eight percent — or 297,000 — in 2011 were living in poverty, up from 23 percent in 2005. In 2011, 428,000 children — or 42 percent — were living in single-parent families, up from 38 percent in 2005.
The study had some positive news for South Carolina.
The percentage of babies born with low birth weights fell to 9.9 percent in 2010 from 10.2 percent in 2005. Children living without health insurance fell to 8 percent in 2011 from 13 percent in 2008.
South Carolina children also made marginal gains in education while being outpaced by other states. In 2011, 72 percent of fourth-graders were not reading on grade-level, but that is down from 74 percent in 2005. Also, 68 percent of eighth-graders in 2011 were not proficient in math, down from 70 percent in 2005.
Home-visiting, child abuse and neglect prevention, and family-strengthening programs have been critical in improving the lives of S.C. children and families, Williams said.
Williams added South Carolina “has never risen above 42” in the rankings. States that consistently rank high in the Kids Count annual report have a highly educated workforce, more students graduating from high school on time and higher paying jobs, Williams said. “If we as a state want to get better, we’re going to have to do those things we’re doing better, faster, stronger.”
Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.