Arizona, Southwest retain low rankings in child welfare

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The Southwest continues to earn dismal marks for child well-being, with New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada ranking in the bottom five of an annual national report card on education, health care and poverty.

New Mexico, which last year booted Mississippi from last place, moved back up to 49th in this year's Kids Count Data Book. The report cited a slight drop in child poverty, improvements in high school graduation rates and a drop in the teenage birth rate.

Mississippi fell back to the bottom in the annual report from Annie E. Casey Foundation. Nevada came in at 48th, mostly because of the number of children living in poverty, and Louisiana ranked 47th despite a number of across-the board improvements.

Arizona rounded out the bottom five as the report says its rate of children living in poverty has increased and support for programs to help has dropped significantly.

Twelve of Arizona's 15 counties had more than half of their children living in low-income families. Coconino and Maricopa counties are the exceptions.

More than 65 percent of Arizona's 3- and 4-year-olds do not go to preschool. In Santa Cruz County, the number jumps to 82 percent.

While the numbers are not good, there are some areas, according to the data, in which Arizona is improving.

Fewer babies are being born to mothers who do not have high school diplomas.

In addition, the rate of kids 17 and younger arrested for violent crimes dropped by almost half from 2000 to 2013.

Overall the state moved up from No. 47 in 2013 to No. 46 in 2014.

"The data trends point to key areas where state leadership can move the needle for kids," Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance, said. "During this campaign season we expect every candidate running for governor and our state Legislature to use the data to develop policy positions and plans that will improve conditions for children."

This year marks the 25th year the foundation has put out the comprehensive scorecard of child well-being across the country.

The good news, the group said, is there has been steady improvement in the numbers of children attending preschool and a decline in the number of schoolchildren not proficient in reading and math over the years. Additionally, the teen birth rate is at a historic low, and the death rates for children and teens have fallen as a result of medical advances and the increased use of seat belts, car seats and bike helmets.

Worrisome trends, however, include a rise in child poverty, the growing percentage of children in single-parent households and the growing number of children growing up in poor communities, the foundation said.

"We should all be encouraged by the improvements in many well-being indicators in the health, education and safety areas," said Patrick McCarthy, the foundation's president and CEO said in a news release.

"But we must do much more. All of us, in every sector - business, government, nonprofits, faith-based groups, families - need to continue to work together to ensure that all children have the chance to succeed."

Kids Count overall rank

Link: Arizona KIDS COUNT® Data Book (PDF file)