New Hampshire is best place to live for U.S. kids

BOSTON Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:21pm EDT

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BOSTON (Reuters) - New Hampshire is the best place in America for a child to live thanks to lower rates of child poverty, according to a report released on Wednesday measuring health, education and economic security.

Holding onto the lead for the ninth time in a decade, New Hampshire once again got top marks for child well-being from the Annie E. Casey Foundation annual Kids Count report.

"Children in New Hampshire, generally speaking, are going to be less likely to be living in poverty, and it affects all the other indicators we track," said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the foundation.

Poverty among children in 38 states, meanwhile, is on the rise, with 14.7 million American children, or 20 percent, categorized as poor in 2009. That is 2.5 million more than in 2000, when 17 percent of the nation's youth lived in low-income homes, the foundation said.

Child poverty did increase in New Hampshire, but at 11 percent remained among the lowest levels in the nation.

Compared to the rest of the United States, children in the Granite State were more likely to graduate from high school and least likely to have a teen pregnancy, Speer said.

New Hampshire ranked among the 10 best states in all categories, including percent of low-birth weight babies, infant mortality rate, child and teen death rates, percent of teens not attending school, percent of children with no parent working and percent of children in single-parent families.

Mississippi, on the flip-side, ranked last among all states and near or at the bottom in all indicators.

"It's going to take a lot to get Mississippi out of the 50th slot," said Speer, who noted that the child poverty rate, at 31 percent, is highest in Mississippi and almost three times the rate in New Hampshire.

Although states overall showed progress in a number of areas, high unemployment and a still faltering economy have taken a toll on American families across the board, she said.

"The recent recession has wiped out many of the economic gains for children that occurred in the late 1990s," Speer said.

With some 5.3 million children impacted by a home foreclosure and nearly 8 million children with at least one parent out of work, youngsters are feeling added stress themselves.

A home foreclosure impacts a child's education and disrupts peer and social networks, Speer said.

Among the Kids Count rankings, Louisiana and Alabama round out the bottom, while Minnesota and Massachusetts are among the top states for children's well-being.

(Reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)

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