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State's Children Better Off This Year, Study Says

June 27, 2006
By MAYA RAO, Courant Staff Writer

Connecticut now has the nation's lowest teen death rate and lowest percentage of children living in poverty, and has leapt from 11th to third place in a national study of child well-being released Monday.

The 2006 Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that Connecticut has made dramatic strides since last year's report, including an improvement from 30th to third place in terms of the lowest percentage of teenagers who are high school dropouts.

The state fared worse over last year's data in two categories: the percentage of low birthweight babies, and children who live in homes where no parent has year-round, full-time employment. Still, the state's rankings in those categories were better than the national averages. The state ranked no lower than 19th in all categories among all the states.

Connecticut has the nation's highest median income, and because of that, the survey's results should not be a surprise, said Bill O'Hare, a senior fellow at the foundation.

Despite the improvements, some say, the study's results obscure what is happening in some cities or towns.

"I think that it's really a mixed picture about what it tells us about the state," said Jude Carroll, director of the Connecticut Kids Count project. "I guess our concern is that Connecticut always looks good when you look at the data statewide. But you don't have to go very far into the town-level data to see how kids are struggling in lots of different cities around the state."

The study reports that 10 percent of children in Connecticut are living in poverty, better than the 11 percent reported last year. The national average is 18 percent.

But 25 percent of Connecticut's children live at income levels that are twice the federal poverty level or less. Even at the higher income level, the families are considered low-income because of Connecticut's high cost of living, Carroll said.

Sue Wilson, a researcher at the Child Health and Development Institute of Farmington, said families in the state generally are not considered self-sufficient until their incomes rise to at least three times the federal poverty level.

"We are a high-income, high-cost state, so the national poverty level is really magnified ... and it falls heavily on families with young children," Wilson said.

The Casey study, which compares data from 2000 to 2004, may not reflect problems of particular cities, Carroll said.

According to the 2000 Census, 41 percent of Hartford children lived under the poverty line, and 69 percent lived under 200 percent of the poverty line; in New Britain, the figures were 25 percent and 51 percent, respectively.

Although Connecticut's improvement in the number of high school dropouts is hopeful, it's difficult to draw conclusions about its meaning because different states measure the rate in different ways, Carroll said.

O'Hare said Connecticut might have moved up in the rankings because many states have made less progress.

"Particularly since 2000, lots of states are kind of treading water, so the fact that Connecticut has improved in certain measures has moved them up quite a bit," O'Hare said.

Although not all the numbers are clear-cut, Shelley Geballe, president of Connecticut Voices for Children in New Haven, said they fall in line with longtime patterns.

"The decline in the percent of kids living in poverty actually continues a trend that started in 1995," Geballe said.

Geballe said that because Connecticut's median income is well above the national average, "one would hope that our kids would be No. 1 in every single measure - we have the capacity to make sure every kid achieves their full potential."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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