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By Richard Craver

Winston-Salem Journal

Rising poverty levels in North Carolina are causing more children to be left behind economically, according to a national study released Tuesday.

The 2015 Kids Count data book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation provides economic data for the nation, in most instances for the years 2009-13.

The report focuses on four categories – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community – and provides a 2015 ranking for each category and overall.

North Carolina ranked 35th in the country for overall child well-being, down from 34th in 2014.

North Carolina was 34th for economic well being (up from 38th in 2014), 28th for education well being (unchanged), 32nd for health well being (unchanged) and 36th for family and community well being (unchanged).

The state performed worse than the national average in several subcategories, including child poverty; households whose parents lack secure employment, and teens ages 16 to 19 not in school and not working.

“The gap between states with the best and worst child well being is stark—and North Carolina sits on the wrong side of that divide,” said Michelle Hughes, executive director of advocacy group NC Child.

The study found that 25 percent of N.C. children live in 100 percent poverty, up from 23 percent in 2013. That level of poverty is defined as annual income of $24,500 for a family of four.

About 1-in-3 children live in a household where parents lack secure employment, while one in three live in a household that struggles to afford monthly housing costs.

About 58 percent of 3- and 4-year olds in North Carolina did not attend preschool during 2011-2013, up from 54 percent during 2006-08.

One-in-11 teens is out of school and not working, disconnected from education and employment pathways to success.

There were some modest improvements in some socioeconomic categories.

The number of N.C. children without health coverage dropped from 188,000, or 8 percent, in 2009, to 144,000, or 6 percent, in 2013. That’s below the U.S. average of 7 percent.

The child and teen death rate dropped from 30 per 100,000 in 2009 to 26 per 100,000 in 2013. The national rate in 2013 was 24 per 100,000.

The percent of high school students not graduating on time dropped from 27 percent in 2009 to 21 percent in 2012. The national rate is 19 percent.

With the General Assembly’s elimination of the state Earned Income Tax Credit for 2014, along with significant cuts to weekly unemployment benefits, Bell said the agency is concerned that many families could find their economic situation worsening during a slow economic recovery.

“Where children grow up matters,” said Laila Bell, director of research and data at NC Child. “The best evidence indicates that policies that help parents pursue economic self-sufficiency like child care subsidies, expanding access to high-quality early childhood education and targeted investments to reduce health disparities produce the biggest improvements in child well-being.”

Source: Study: More N.C. Children in Poverty.

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