Despite some incremental improvements over the past few years, Louisiana children continue to be worse off than their counterparts in every state but Mississippi, according to various statistical measures analyzed in the 2009 KIDS COUNT Data Book, an annual study released Tuesday.
More troubling, analysts see harder times ahead thanks to the still-lurching economy, the study says.
The data book, the 20th annual report on child well-being compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore, found that Louisiana has among the nation's highest percentages of low-birthweight babies, infant mortality, teen death and children with unemployed parents.
Overall, Louisiana ranked 49th of 50 states in the report, which used data from 2006 and 2007 from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics. The new data was compared to data from 2000 to measure changes over the past decade.
Despite the low ranking, Louisiana bucked a national trend by not seeing an increase in child poverty. While child poverty in America has inched up since 2000, the rate has remained steady in Louisiana at 27 percent. For families with two adults and two children, an income below $21,027 is considered poor.
"What's surprising is the child poverty rate," said Laura Beavers, National KIDS COUNT coordinator in Baltimore. "In almost every other state there was an increase in the child poverty rate, and this wasn't the case in Louisiana."
Since 2000, Lousiana's teen birth rate has improved, meanwhile, dropping from 62 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 in 2000 to 54 per 1,000 in 2006. In this area, Louisiana did slightly better, ranking 39th of 50 states and following a national trend toward a lower teen birth rate.
"This is a concerning trend because we know . . . as the economy worsens, teen birth rates do tend to rise," said Teresa Falgoust, KIDS COUNT coordinator for Agenda for Children.
Falgoust said that some experts theorize that as the economy has slumped, the incentive to delay child-bearing seems to be disappearing. But she says they will not understand the shift fully until more data is released.
Other areas of improvement for Louisiana: the number of idle teens, meaning teens not attending school and not working. That number decreased from 42,000 teens in 2000 to 32,000 teens in 2007.
The child death rate also improved dramatically, falling from 297 child deaths in 2000 to 219 child deaths in 2007.
But Falgoust is troubled by forecasts for increased child poverty, which in turn is likely to affect the other indices.
"Almost all of these indicators are affected by poverty," Falgoust said. "That's really the one indicator that drives everything else, so when we see that indicator rising it really concerns us about the overall well-being of children."
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