Conditions for children in Georgia have improved, but the state still ranks 37th in the nation for child well-being, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported Wednesday.
The Kids Count data show Georgia has made gains in reducing the number of high school dropouts by 16 percent. They also showed increased rates of fourth- and eighth-graders earning proficient scores in reading and math, respectively.
The state also improved in the area of children’s health. The number of low-weight babies dropped slightly, from 13,498 to 13,190, between 2005 and 2009.
The bigger changes were the 9 percent decrease in the number of children without health insurance, and the drop in the number of those ages 12 to 17 abusing drugs and alcohol. The number dropped from 56,000 in 2005 to 48,000 in 2009.
Those pluses have helped lift Georgia out of the bottom 10 states for child well-being, but economic conditions for children in Georgia and the nation are still dire, said Gaye Smith, the executive director of the Georgia Family Connection Partnership. Investing in education is helping youths, she said.
The Kids Count data show that one in four children in Georgia lives in poverty – $22,000 a year for a family of four. That’s up from one in five children in 2005.
Children living in homes with no parent employed increased from 28 percent in 2008 to 34 percent in 2010.
“These findings confirm Georgia’s long-term struggle with poverty,” Smith said. “The prosperity of our state and nation depends on our children having opportunities to grow up in safe, thriving neighborhoods ...”
Gov. Nathan Deal agreed, saying the answer to ending poverty is to aid parents into steady jobs so they can invest in their children’s healthy development and education.
“I am committed to ensuring that Georgia’s children are educated, healthy, safe, and growing,” he said.
In Richmond County, 77.5 percent of high school students graduated on time in 2010. In Columbia County, the rate was 84.7 percent.
Figures show that 76.3 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-cost meals in Richmond County in 2012. In Columbia County, that number is 33 percent, according to the data.
The best state for child well-being is New Hampshire. The worst is Mississippi, the data said.
The 2012 Kids Count report factors in economic well-being, health, education, and family and community support.