PORTLAND, Maine — While New Hampshire and Vermont ranked first and third for children’s well-being in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual survey, Maine dropped two slots to 14th place with more children living in poverty and single-parent homes and more young people dropping out of high school.
Maine fared better than the national average in seven out of 10 indicators, including kids living in poverty and in single-parent homes, according to the report released today.
But poverty and single-parent homes remain a concern in Maine. The number of children living in a household defined as poor increased from 12 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2008. The number of children living in single-parent homes grew from 24 percent to 31 percent in the same period, according to the report.
Many indicators of children’s well-being are tied to poverty, and Maine is the poorest state in New England, said Dean Crocker, president and CEO of Maine Children’s Alliance.
“The bottom line is we have been trending down in terms of poverty,” he said.
The report ranked the 50 states in 10 categories of children’s health. It did not take into account the recent economic downturn because it was based on data from 2000 to 2008.
Other areas trending upward in Maine include the high school dropout rate and teen birth rate, along with infant mortality and babies born with a low birth weight.
Maine wasn’t alone in rising poverty rates. New Hampshire, which came out tops in the overall ranking, saw a 50 percent increase in percentage of children living in poverty.
Despite that, New Hampshire still had the lowest child poverty rate of all states.
New Hampshire has been ranked highest eight of the last nine years. This year it was followed by Minnesota and Vermont. Mississippi ranked last.
“That’s an incredible record, and it says a lot about how well kids fare in this state,” said Ellen Fineberg, president of the Children’s Alliance of New Hampshire, a nonprofit group that does research on children in the state.
In 2000, 6 percent of the children in the state were estimated to be living in poverty, according to the survey. In 2008, the number had grown to 9 percent. That translates into about 26,000 children, Fineberg said. The survey uses federal guidelines to define poverty conditions as an income below $21,834 for a family of two adults and two children.
Nationally, the percent of children living in poverty went up 6 percent from 2000 to 2008. Other areas that have worsened nationally are the percent of babies born with low birth weight and the percent of children living in single-parent families. New Hampshire held steady in these categories.
Areas that have improved nationally — as well as in New Hampshire — are the infant mortality rate, the teen death rate and the percent of teens neither in school nor high school graduates.
Tom Blonski, president and CEO of the New Hampshire chapter of Catholic Charities, said his organization is seeing more unemployed and underemployed families with children asking for assistance.
“With a 15 percent increase in demand for our services over last year, we’re doing everything we can to help meet the needs of parents and children with programs like Our Place, for [pregnant and] parenting young adults, St. Charles Children’s Home, for abused and neglected children, the New Hampshire Food Bank and our community outreach support services,” he said.
“It’s easy to think that because we rank lowest in the country for childhood poverty there isn’t a problem, but I can tell you that for the 9 percent of children in New Hampshire that are living below the poverty line, it is a big problem,” Blonski said.
The rate increase in New Hampshire indicates that even before the recession set in, there were factors contributing to weakening economic conditions in the family, Fineberg said. Possible reasons could be the departure of manufacturing jobs from the state; the closing of factories, such as the pulp mill in Berlin; and a rising immigration rate.
There are other indicators to reflect troubling economic times for families in New Hampshire. In June, the Department of Health and Human Services reported 51,501 families were on food stamps. That’s a 61 percent increase over two years ago, when 31,830 families were receiving them.
And as of last fall, families needing state help with child care had to go on a waiting list. The state said it no longer could afford to help everyone as requests mounted and it needed to eliminate at least a $6 million deficit in state child care costs. There are about 2,400 children on the list waiting for a subsidy.
“The concern about that is it circles back to who’s available or how families are going to manage to pay for child care so they can go to work then opportunity becomes available to them,” Fineberg said.