N.J. ranking for child well-being slips to eighth in nation

Posted: July 24, 2014

New Jersey's ranking for overall child well-being slipped to eighth best in the nation from fifth last year, and Pennsylvania inched up from 17th to 16th, according to data released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The information was collected for the foundation's 25th annual Kids Count Data Book.

New Jersey rated second in the nation for education variables such as school performance and children attending preschool, the same as last year. The state rose from 18th to 16th on economic well-being and fell from ninth to 10th on family and community factors such as the percentage of children living in poor communities. The state's health rating dropped from 13th best in the country to 18th.

Pennsylvania remained 17th in economic well-being. The state rank for education rose from eighth to seventh and went from 25th for family and community factors to 23d. Its health rating fell from 22d last year to 25th.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children president Joan Benso called the state's new ranking "a hopeful indication that we have reversed the slide we saw last year, but also a sobering reminder that we still have to set up our investments in proven programs that benefit our youngest citizens."

Advocates for Children of New Jersey executive director Cecilia Zalkind called her state's health ranking decline "concerning," but added it seems that New Jersey children are not doing much worse on that front but rather that other states are doing better.

"The academic performance of our children is a result of the significant investment we make in preschool and K-12 education," Zalkind said.

The new report also compares states' performance on numerous variables over the last several years, and data compiled for the study also changed over the last two decades.

The percentage of children living in poverty and in households that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing rose from 1990 to 2012 on the average nationally, including in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In 1990, 11 percent of New Jersey children were living in poverty and 34 percent were in households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. In Pennsylvania, 15 percent were living in poverty and 24 percent were using more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to data collected by the Casey foundation.

In 2012, 15 percent of New Jersey children were living in poverty and 45 percent were in families spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. In Pennsylvania, 20 percent were living in poverty and 33 percent spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Both states, however, made gains in education during those years, as did the nation as a whole.

The number of 3- and 4-year-olds not attending preschool dropped from 49 percent to 39 percent in New Jersey and from 57 percent to 53 percent in Pennsylvania, according to the data.

The percentage of New Jersey fourth graders below proficient in reading went from 65 percent to 58 percent. In Pennsylvania, it went from 68 percent to 60 percent.

In 1990, 79 percent of New Jersey eighth graders and 83 percent of Pennsylvania eighth graders were below proficient in math. In 2013, performance had improved to 51 percent for New Jersey eighth graders and 58 percent for Pennsylvania eighth graders.


rgiordano@phillynews.com

856-779-3893

@ritagiordano

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