Vermont ranks 3rd on child well-being

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DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A national study on child well-being ranks Vermont third in the nation -- up one spot from last year -- although the report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation also spotlights increased poverty rates among Vermont children.

The 2012 Kids Count Data Book released this week shows positive strides are being made across the nation in health and education among children, but there is an increased percent of families struggling financially. The trends, based largely on 2010 statistics, are similar in the Green Mountain State.

The entire report is based on 16 indicators organized into four domains -- family and community, economics, education, and health. Vermont, ranking only behind the states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts respectively, scored highest in health and third in education among children. Vermont ranked second in family and community and twelfth in economic well-being.

According to the report, 21,000 children in Vermont, or 17 percent, were living in poverty in 2010. Comparatively, 22 percent of children in the United States were below the poverty threshold, meaning a family’s income is not enough to cover basic living costs and needs. According to the US Census Bureau’s 2010 Poverty Thresholds, a family of four earning less than $22,314 per year is considered to be living in poverty.

More low-income families

Many more children come from low-income families, defined as being within 200 percent of the poverty threshold. In Vermont, nearly 50,000 children, or 40 percent, were living in poor and low-income households in 2010. That marks a 21 percent increase from 2007, according to the report.

Carlen Finn, executive director of Voices for Vermont’s Children -- which gathers Vermont’s statistics for a statewide Kids Count report -- said while Vermont ranks third in the nation overall, the poverty rates show just how much people across the country are struggling.

"The unfortunate thing in our view is that the bar is not set very high," Finn said. "When we have a national poverty rate for children of 21 or 22 percent, that’s unconscionable in one of the richest nations in the world. It’s like, OK, yes, Vermont looks much better at 17 percent, but its still 17 percent. In a small state of 129,000 children, 21,000 are still poor."

The report finds higher rates of poverty are frequent among more rural regions of the state. Bennington County has poverty rates among the highest at 22.4 percent. The rate across the county has steadily increased over the past five years when it was 15.5 percent in 2006.

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Finn said as depressing as the financial outlook in the state is, it appears things may get worse before they get better.

"We don’t see a silver lining at this point in these figures. New poverty data won’t be out until the fall .... but we feel its going to be even worse in the 2011 data because families really are struggling."

On the brighter side, Finn said other results are promising.

"For both health and education we have as a state historically committed to really supporting good policies including finance polices in education that support schools and our public education system," Finn said.

In education, the state saw an increase in reading and math proficiency as well as an increase in high school students graduating on time. Only Wisconsin at 91 percent has more high school students graduating on time than Vermont at 90 percent.

Vermont has made significant strides making sure children are covered with health insurance and are among the top in the nation in most health categories. Just 2 percent of children in the state were uninsured in 2010, compared to 8 percent nationally. Vermont also saw a 46 percent drop in child and teen deaths in 2009.

For the first time, the Kids Count data expanded its criteria for ranking states from 10 to 16 indicators this year. The expanded look at each state did not have a great impact on Vermont’s standing, as Finn said for as long as she can remember Vermont has been listed in the top 10 states for child well-being.

Finn said the data, broken down by specific criteria and demographics, collected in the report is important for both public awareness and to support reform to help improve child well-being.

"It’s always important to focus on not just the overall circumstances in a state or region or country, but then to look specifically at what are some of the ways we can identify and look at why we are in this particular situation," she said. "Being able to have this kind of data and then to say, ‘look, here is why we should continue doing what we are doing, or why we should start doing something differently.’"

To view the statistics and reports in their entirety, visit http://datacenter.kidscount.org

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi


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