New Jersey’s quality schools and its access to health care help make it the fifth-best place to raise a child, according to the annual look at family well-being in America.
For 30 years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has published Kids Count, a compilation of data measuring health, wealth and stability, to draw attention to the needs of struggling kids and families. The goal is to influence politicians and policy makers who can make the changes that could improve thousands of lives.
This year, New Jersey continued its streak of top-10 ratings since at least 2010, placing 5th behind New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, and Minnesota.
Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico ranked at the bottom, the report said.
“Our state has made progress has changed over the last 30 years and we have made great strides, but we must continue investing in our children in order tro ensure that they have bright futures,” said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO for Advocates for Children of New Jersey, nonprofit which co-releases the Kids Count reports with Casey.
Much of the credit for New Jersey’s ranking goes to its high graduation rate, the wide availability of preschool programs and the improved reading and math test scores compared to the rest of the country, according to the report. Nationally. 65 percent of fourth graders did not pass a proficiency test compared to 51 percent in New Jersey in 2017 — up from 60 percent a decade ago.
New Jersey’s children improved its health standings, too. There were just 78,000 kids or 4 percent of the under 18-population in 2017 who lack health coverage compared 6 percent in 2010. Teens who abuse alcohol and drugs declined from 4 percent to 3 percent over the same period.
Economic stability remains elusive for some families in the Garden State, however. The same percentage of children who lived in poverty in 2010 stayed the same in 2017, at 14 percent. The federal poverty level is $22,350 for a family of four.
There were nearly 500,000 minors, or 24 percent of the child population, whose parents lack steady, year-round full-time employee. It was even worse in 2010, when 27 percent of children lived in homes without a reliable paycheck.
These factors contributed to New Jersey ranking 28th for economic well-being, the report said.
“America’s children are one quarter of our population and 100 percent of our future,” said Casey Foundation President and CEO Lisa Hamilton. “All of the 74 million kids in our increasingly diverse country have unlimited potential, and we have the data, knowledge and evidence to create the policies that will help them realize it. It’s incumbent on us to do just that.”
The rankings are based 16 categories examining economic well-being, education, health, and community and family. Data sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Center for Education Statistics and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.