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One in five U.S. children stalled in poverty

Teens are less likely to become pregnant and more likely to graduate from high school than ever before — despite stagnant economic recovery for their parents — newly released data suggests.

One out of five U.S. children lived in poverty in 2014, unchanged from the previous year despite rising employment, according to the latest available data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nonprofit children’s advocacy organization. Among states, Minnesota ranked highest for child well-being for the second year in a row, followed by Massachusetts and Iowa. At the bottom sat Louisiana, New Mexico and finally Mississippi.

The growing use of evidence-based research to track how policies influence issues has produced encouraging numbers, despite stalled improvement in child poverty, explained Laura Speer, who directs the foundation’s policy research and advocacy. For example, Speer connected a record-breaking drop in the teen pregnancy rate to better access to sex education and contraceptives.

“That’s the kind of policymaking we need if we really want to make a difference and change the results we track year after year,” she said.

Since 1990, the foundation has analyzed children’s overall living conditions nationwide and by state. The foundation monitors progress in economy, education, health, and family and community based on data from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Education, among others.

In Minnesota, data suggests that children overall enjoy stable well-being, with 15 percent of children living in poverty. But then look closely at the state’s rapidly growing number of children of color, who make up one-third of Minnesota’s population under age 18, says Stephanie Hogenson, who directs research and policy for Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota.

Compared to their white peers, children of color are less likely to access health care or live in households with stable incomes, she explained.

“We know those children face a steeper ladder to success,” Hogenson said.

Looking south, 29 percent of Mississippi’s children live below the poverty line. While all health indicators rose for Mississippi’s children, such as fewer low birthweight babies and more children with insurance, half of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds received no education. And the odds of enjoying a good quality of life are stacked against non-white children, the data suggests.

“It’s in many ways the same story” as the year before, explained Linda Southward, who directs Mississippi KidsCount through the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. She said that the younger a child is in Mississippi, the more likely they are to live in poverty. One-third of Mississippi’s children age 0-5 live in poverty. Among African-American children in that age group, the figure jumps to more than half. Greater funding for early childhood education, for example, could boost education outcomes, attract employers to the state and raise families out of poverty, Southward suggested.

“The likelihood of that ever changing is extremely low unless we invest early on in our children,” Southward said.

In November, Mississippi voters rejected a proposed amendment to their constitution designed to ensure fully funded public schools statewide.