The Star Ledger
With quality schools and accessible health care, New Jersey is the eighth best state in the country to raise a child, according to the latest annual Kids Count report card on family well-being.
The state could have ranked higher if poverty were less pervasive, the report said. New Jersey ranked 16 for family economic well-being. In 2012, 310,000 lived in low-income families, representing 15 percent of the state’s children. In 1990, 11 percent of children lived in low-income households.
Last year, New Jersey ranked fifth best.
New Jersey largely owes its top 10 ranking to its track record on education. With 87 percent of high school students graduating on time, 62 percent of children attending preschool, New Jersey is second only to Massachusetts on its education measures, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nonprofit child and family research organization which produces the Kids Count report with Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
Even with 58 percent of fourth graders and 51 percent of eighth graders failing to show on standardized tests they are proficient in reading and math last year, respectively, New Jersey’s kids showed significant improvement over prior years, and still outperformed their peers in most other states, according to the report.
More children were covered by health insurance in 2012, with just 5 percent or about 103,000 kids missing coverage in 2012. The teen birth rate dropped significantly from 17 out of 1,000 of every baby born in 2012, from 23 births per capita in 2005, the report said.
“This is great news, as we celebrate more than two decades of publishing state Kids Count reports,” Cecilia Zalkind said, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “It proves that measuring the well-being of our children can lead to positive change, ensuring that more children grow up safe, healthy and educated.”
New Jersey’s unemployment rate in 2012 was one of the highest in the country, and is reflected in the Kids Count report.
More than 500,000 children lived with parents who did not have a job or a steady payment; 920,000 children lived in housing their families struggled to afford because the rent or mortgage consumed more than one-third of their paycheck.
For 25 years, the Casey Foundation has collected and analyzed government data to show elected officials and policy makers where it should be putting its focus to improve the health and stability and family. The foundation, in collaboration with Advocates for Children, collect data on 16 measures that examine health, economics, family stability and education.
“The nation has gained significant knowledge since 1990 on how to give children a good start and help them meet major milestones throughout childhood,” said Casey President Patrick McCarthy. “The federal government and states have implemented a number of policies since then to improve several areas of child well-being. As we embark on the next 25 years, I urge all sectors to work collaboratively to develop and advance solutions that help all children succeed.”
Massachusetts ranked at the top; Mississippi ranked at the bottom, according to the report.