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Editorial

No. 1 overall in child well-being

We’re an aging population, and we often lament that we draw too few young families into our state. But those currently growing up in the Monadnock region and across all of New Hampshire can count themselves among the luckiest in the nation.

In its most recent analysis of the well-being of children in all 50 states, the Annie E. Casey Foundation once again ranked New Hampshire as tops overall in America. It did so by measuring and comparing trends, mostly between 2005 and 2011, in key areas like education, economy, health and family/community. Here’s what the report found in each of the four key areas:

Economic well-being: We’re seventh overall in the nation, though since 2005 we’ve slipped in the percentage of children living in poverty. In 2011, that figure stood at 12 percent, or 33,000 children, which is well above the 9 percent that lived below the poverty line in 2005. We also have 65,000 children (23 percent) whose parents lack secure employment and 110,000 (39 percent) who live in homes with what the report calls a “high housing cost burden.”

Education: We’re fourth overall, and we’re improving. The number of children not attending preschool is dropping and our graduation rates and proficiency measures in both reading and math are going up.

Health: Our rank of 16th is a bit worrisome considering our proximity to world-class resources in Boston. But we have made strides across the board in prenatal care, children living without insurance, and child and teen deaths. Disturbingly, 9 percent of New Hampshire teens abuse alcohol and drugs, a slight improvement from 2005, but still well above the 7 percent who do so nationally.

Family and community: New Hampshire was tops in the nation in this category, based on far better-than-average rates of kids living in single-parent homes and in high poverty areas. Our teen birth rate was less than half the national average, and our children are far less likely to live in a home in which the head of the household does not have a high school diploma.

New Hampshire, like the rest of the nation, continues to feel the impacts of the historic recession, and that is certainly evident in the economic indicators that show increases across the board, from a growth in child poverty to a decrease in teen employment. What is remarkable, though, is that even through this recession, we showed steady improvement in both education and health, two areas that you’d think would be hindered in a failing economy. Perhaps the reason we were able to make those gains even during dire circumstances was the category in which New Hampshire truly stood apart: family and community.

The state may always lag behind neighbors like Massachusetts and Vermont in the number of state programs available to our children and teens, but this report shows that a continued fostering of ideals like family and community can go a long way in lifting seemingly unrelated sectors through hardship.

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