New report shows federal and local policies are leading to improvements for U.S. children, but Maine is not seeing the same results as other New England states
Maine children are experiencing modest improvements in key areas of child well-being that support them in leading healthier, safer lives, but a report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that there is still a long way to go compared to other states in the New England region. While fewer Maine children are living in poverty, too many still face severe economic challenges that could be prevented with smart policies, according the 2017 KIDS COUNT® Data Book.
This year, Maine ranked 13th overall, while New Hampshire took the number one spot, followed by Massachusetts and Vermont. The 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book uses 16 indicators to rank each state across four domains — health, education, economic well-being and family and community — that represent what children need most to thrive.
In the four domains, Maine ranked:
- 27th in economic well-being. The economic well-being domain examines data related to child poverty, family employment, housing costs and whether older teens are connected to education or employment. The data shows that 32 percent of children in Maine are in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.
- 18th in education. High school graduation rates continue to be a bright spot and Maine currently ranks 12th on this indicator. However, with 13 percent of students not graduating on time, there is still work to be done.
- 6th in family and community context. At 4 percent, Maine has one of the lowest percentages of children in families where the head of the household lacks a high-school diploma.
- 11th in health. In stark contrast with national trends of improvement in this area, Maine has experienced a 50 percent increase in the percentage of children without health insurance since 2010. Six percent of kids now lack coverage, compared to the national average of 5 percent.
The 2017 Data Book highlights the need to address the economic well-being of Maine kids. In 2015, 17 percent of Maine children were living in poverty — down 2 percentage points from the previous year, but still not at pre-recession rates.
“The U.S. continues to have one of the highest child poverty rates among all developed countries,” said Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform and advocacy for the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “This unfairly burdens our young people and the nation, costing an estimated $500 billion a year in reduced economic opportunities and increased health and criminal justice-related costs.”
In other economic indicators, Maine has remained relatively constant. Nearly one third of children live in households where more than 30 percent of income is consumed by housing costs, or in households where parents are lacking full-time, year-round employment.
Meanwhile, Maine saw fewer young children in preschool, fewer fourth graders reading at grade level, and fewer eight graders proficient in math. However, 87 percent of high school students graduated on time in 2014-15, a step above the national average of 83 percent.
While much of the country saw improvement in the percentage of children ages 3 and 4 attending school, Maine fell 3 percentage points between 2014 and 2015, ranking 33rd in the nation on this indicator.
“Research tells us that high-quality early childhood programs positively impact our children, communities and even the economy,” said Rita Furlow, senior policy analyst of the Maine Children’s Alliance. “If we are serious about investing in our kids and our future, Maine needs to invest in high-quality early childhood programs, from expanding public preschool to providing adequate funding for our head start programs.”
Similarly, Maine’s health indicators showed mixed results. While Maine saw significant improvement in the percentage of teens abusing alcohol or drugs and in the child and teen death rate, the state continues to defy national trends regarding child health insurance.
Across the country, many states are seeing vast improvements in the percentage of children living without health insurance. This is largely due to expanded public health care coverage. Unfortunately, Maine’s percentage of uninsured children increased 50 percent between 2010 and 2015 and, at 6 percent, is above the national average. More needs to be done to improve access to care, which is why the Maine Children’s Alliance is working with several other nonprofits, led by Consumers for Affordable Health Care, to connect eligible Maine children to MaineCare coverage so they can grow up in a healthy environment.
“If we want to improve child well-being in Maine, our officials must look at the evidence and make data-driven decisions for our future,” said Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance. “We must create pathways out of poverty so more parents have access to family-supporting jobs, more young children have access to early education and all families have access to affordable health care.”