Kids Count and New Hampshire’s opportunity gap

New data show that New Hampshire does well on average. But disparities in opportunity are wide

The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released its annual Kids Count Data Book. The publication ranks states on child well-being using key indicators of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

The great news for New Hampshire is that the state remains one of the best places in the country to raise kids, ranking fourth after Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Iowa. In the past five years, New Hampshire has consistently ranked in the top five in overall child well-being.

Many of our kids are doing really well. The bad news is that the gap in childhood well-being is wide, and growing. Our childhood poverty rate is increasing more rapidly than that of other states, and children who live in poverty are far less likely to thrive than are their counterparts from wealthier families. Too many of New Hampshire’s kids do not have the access to opportunity that will help them reach their potential and grow into thriving adult members of families and communities. This troubling trend has serious implications for the state’s future prosperity, economic growth and social well-being.

Here’s the gist of this year’s Kids Count report, including the good and the bad:

Economic Well-Being

NH Rank: 7

For many years, New Hampshire had the lowest child poverty rate in the country. While the state’s child poverty rate is still low (13 percent), we no longer have the lowest rate. Over the past decade, New Hampshire has seen a steady rise in child poverty, and this rate is increasing faster than it is in other states. In 2000, only 6 percent of New Hampshire’s kids lived in poverty; by 2014 that number had more than doubled, to 13 percent. Compare that trajectory with that of our neighbor to the south: In Massachusetts in 2000, 14 percent of kids lived in poverty. By 2014, that number had risen by just one percent, to 15 percent. Thus, while the childhood poverty rate is still higher in Massachusetts than it is in New Hampshire, our increase is dramatic, and troubling. We know that when  kids grow up in poverty, they are less likely to do well in school and attend college, and more likely to have a lower wages and occupational status in adulthood. This has serious implications for New Hampshire’s economic growth and future workforce – particularly with our projected increase in jobs and many current workers are headed toward retirement.

Education

NH Rank: 4

New Hampshire’s schools and students continue to be among the best in the country – with some of the top reading scores. Unfortunately, being among the best still means that 54 percent of our fourth graders score below proficiency in reading. New Hampshire has seen some improvements in reading scores over the past decade among both fourth graders and eighth graders, which is good news. However, poor kids do significantly worse than their wealthier peers. Of the kids who are eligible for free and reduced lunch (a reliable measure of poverty), a whopping 74 percent score below proficiency, compared with 46 percent of kids who come from families that are better-off.

Health

NH Rank: 25

This is where New Hampshire does the worst. One Kids Count measure tracks the number of teens who abuse drugs or alcohol. In New Hampshire, 6 percent of teens report abuse of alcohol or other drugs, higher than the national average of 5 percent, and higher than most of our New England neighbors. But there is also very good news on this front: Through significant policy and advocacy work on this issue over the last decade, this number has been cut in half since 2005, when 10 percent of New Hampshire teens reporting abusing alcohol or other drugs.

Another health measure tallies the number of kids without health insurance. In New Hampshire, about 12,000 kids under the age of 18 are without health insurance – representing a slight increase since 2013, but an overall decrease since 2008. This is an important measure, because kids without health insurance are less likely to receive care when needed.

Family and Community

NH Rank: 1

This is where we do best. New Hampshire consistently scores in the top in the family and community measures of Kids Count. This includes a measure of the teen birth rate, which in New Hampshire has decreased by almost half since 2008 – and is now the lowest in the country.  Kids Count also measures the number of children living in high-poverty areas (defined as areas where the poverty rate among households is 30 percent or more.) Research shows that kids growing up in high poverty neighborhoods are more likely to have health problems, drop out of school, and experience other negative socio-economic factors. In New Hampshire, 9,000 children – or 3 percent – live in high-poverty areas. This number has risen by 4,000 kids since 2006 and, like the rise in our overall child poverty rate, it represents a worrying trend.

So what does this all mean? The good news is that New Hampshire continues to be one of the best places in the country to be a kid. However, how long we can remain at the top depends on the kinds of public and private investments we make today – including in education, drug and alcohol use prevention, family supports and early childhood – to address the growing inequality of opportunity among New Hampshire’s kids.

The Foundation is working with generous donors, with business leaders and with partners in education and the public and nonprofit sectors to improve opportunities for New Hampshire’s kids. We invite you to join us in this important work.

Read about the Foundation’s New Hampshire Tomorrow agenda to increase youth opportunity.