ELLSWORTH — The lives of many Maine children seem to be improving, albeit slowly, according to data released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Compared to 2010, fewer children in the state are living in poverty (17 percent) and fewer are living in households where no parent has secure employment (30 percent, down from 34 in 2010).
Teen birth rates in the state are at a record low of 15 per 1,000 for girls aged 10 to 17, mirroring a national downward trend. Maine also leads the nation (in a four-way tie) as one of the states with the lowest percentage of children living in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma.
The state ranked 16th in the nation in overall child well-being. The rankings take a wide swathe of information into account, including economics, health, family and community, and education.
Neighboring New Hampshire was the top of the nation for overall child well-being, followed by Massachusetts and New Jersey. Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico took the 48-50 spots, respectively.
But despite improvements in some measures, several indicators show Maine children struggling, particularly in school. A majority (64 percent) of eighth-graders in the state were classed as “not proficient in math,” and the same percentage of fourth-graders were “not proficient in reading,” according to the report.
The state lags behind the national average of young children not in school, an indicator that has been linked to future socioeconomic status. In Maine, 52 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in preschool between 2014 and 2016, compared to 56 percent nationwide.
Health insurance was another area in which Maine children appeared to be falling behind. Although the percentage of children without health insurance coverage nationwide dropped by half between 2010 and 2016 (from 8 to 4 percent), the number has increased in Maine, with five percent not covered in 2016, compared to 4 percent in 2010.
“More needs to be done to improve access to care, which is why Maine Children’s Alliance (MCA) is continuing to support and insist on Medicaid expansion, to increase coverage and its benefits to eligible parents for the health and well-being of children and families,” said MCA’s Executive Director Claire Berkowitz in a press release. “When parents have coverage, their kids are more likely to have coverage.”
The report made particular note of what the organization says is a potentially “historic” undercount of children under 5 in the upcoming 2020 census.
“In Maine, as well as in other states, young children under 5 are the most likely to be overlooked in the census compared to any other age group,” said Helen Hemminger, MCA’s research and KIDS Count associate. “These children are more likely to live in poverty, to be homeless, to be moving among various relatives or to live in blended families.
The group estimates that children under 5 were undercounted nationally by 4.6 percent in 2010, a number that has gotten worse since 1980.
“The undercount matters for apportionment of federal dollars, and matters acutely in Maine,” according to the release.
“Maine has historically received more per capita from the federal government than all but a handful of states.”
Authors go on to say that the census tracts most likely to be undercounted are poor neighborhoods of Lewiston and Portland, as well as isolated communities in Washington and Hancock counties, and those living in unorganized territories, American Indian reservations and island communities.