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Kearns and Sons

Montana 33rd on child well-being

Dear Editor,

Earlier this month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book, the leading report on the status and well-being of children in the U.S. This year’s Data Book focuses on the aftermath of the recession and reports an increase of 18 percent in the national child poverty rate between 2000 and 2009 (from 17 percent to 20 percent). This increase indicates 2.5 million additional American children lived below the federal poverty line in 2009 compared with 2000, a fact that effectively wipes out the economic and social gains of the 1990s. The report’s data show that these improvements were stalling even before the economic downturn began.
With its focus on how states have fared since the recession, the 2011 Data Book introduces two new indicators to its lineup: unemployment and foreclosure, issues that are also addressed in this year’s slogan, “America’s Children, America’s Challenge: Promoting Opportunity for the Next Generation.” Home foreclosure for a family means the loss of a permanent home. Homeownership is associated with improved cognitive development in school-age children, as well as increased graduation rates. Until the housing market meltdown, homeownership was one of the most reliable ways for lower-income families to build assets.
In 2010, 11 percent of American children had at least one unemployed parent, and 4 percent lived in a household that had entered foreclosure since 2007. Against that backdrop, Montana has weathered the recession comparatively well: 8 percent of Montana children have at least one unemployed parent, and only 2 percent have been affected by foreclosure since 2007.
Overall, Montana is ranked 33rd among the 50 states in terms of child well-being. The rankings, which are published annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, are computed based on 10 indicators, which also include infant mortality, child poverty and idle youth, in addition to the unemployment and foreclosure data already mentioned.
To achieve the ranking of 33rd, Montana has exhibited values for the various indicators that are sometimes above and sometimes below national averages. Of those that are below the national average, a few in particular stand out.

  • Idle Youth: In 2009, 9 percent of Montana teens age 16-19 were not in school and were not high school graduates (46 other states were doing better). Eleven percent were not attending school and not working (39 other states were doing better).
  • Child and Teen Death Rates: While the death rates for both age groups were significantly lower in 2007 than in 2000, these rates are still very high in Montana. It’s ranked 45th, with only five other states doing worse.

However, there are four areas where Montana performs equal to or better than the national average.

  • Infant Mortality Rate: Despite facing a slight increase between 2000 and 2008, Montana’s infant mortality rate was still better than 34 other states.
  • Babies Born at Low Birthweight: There has been an increase in the percent of babies born at low birthweight in Montana between 2000 and 2008, but the state’s rates were still lower than the national average. Only 17 other states had lower rates.
  • Single-Parent Families: While the portion of Montana children living in single-parent families went from one-quarter in 2000 to almost one-third in 2009, we still have proportionally more two-parent families in Montana than in 31 other states.
  • Teen Birth Rate: Montana’s teen birth rate ranks 25th among the 50 states, at 41 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19. This rate is equal to the national average, but it is up 11 percent since 2000.

Montana has slipped in the national rankings of child well-being, from 21st in 2000 to 34th in 2003 and 2004, to 33rd in 2011. While rankings are not accurate measures of one state’s performance over time, they indicate which states are near the top, and which states are near the bottom. Over the course of 12 years, Montana’s overall child well-being went from the middle to closer to the bottom.
By comparison, all our immediate neighbors rank higher than us: North Dakota is ranked 10th, South Dakota is 21st, Idaho is ranked 22nd, and Wyoming is 28th. For perspective, Mississippi has been ranked 50th every year since 2000, while New Hampshire has been ranked first for 11 of the last 12 years. It would appear that we have some things to learn, if not from New Hampshire, than at least from North Dakota.

Thale Dillon, Director

Montana KIDS COUNT

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