The 1 State You Don’t Want to Raise Kids In, According to Experts
More than 700 million kids — 1 out of every 4 around the world — are being robbed of their childhood, according to a report by nonprofit Save the Children. Child labor, child marriage, malnutrition, extreme violence, and a lack of education are among the “childhood enders” that deprive kids of the chance to be safe, happy, and healthy, according to the organization.
Childhood is most threatened in Niger, Angola, and Mali, according to the group’s ranking of 172 countries. Kids have the best shot at a happy, healthy childhood in countries, including Norway, Slovenia, and Finland. The U.S. ranked 36 out of 172 in the Save the Children report, between Bosnia and Russia. That’s better than the majority of countries but behind most other developed nations.
“All around the world, childhoods are at risk. Even here in the U.S., the most vulnerable children are being robbed of their chance to learn, grow, play and be safe,” Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, said in the statement.
To get a clearer look at the state of childhood in the U.S., the organization ranked all 50 states on five child-ending factors: infant mortality, child homicide and suicide rates, adolescent birth rates, food insecurity, and high school completion. The disparities among the states were vast. In these 15 states, childhood ends too soon for too many kids, according to Save the Children.
A quarter of all children in Florida — more than 1 million kids — live in “food insecure” households, where they sometimes don’t get regular meals at home. Nationwide, the figure is 1 in 5. Only seven states had a more serious childhood hunger problem.
In addition, 22% of Florida kids don’t graduate from high school on time, an alarming statistic considering dropouts are more likely to be unemployed and earn $10,000 less, on average, than their peers with a diploma. But Florida did better on rankings of violence (25th), teen pregnancy (23rd), and infant mortality (29th).
Teen pregnancy is a problem in Tennessee. The state ranked 42nd in births to mothers between the ages of 15 and 19, with more than 30 girls out of every 1,000 having a child of their own before they are out of their teens. (In Massachusetts, the state with the lowest teen pregnancy rate, it was 9 out of 1,000.) The children of teen mothers are more likely to suffer from poor health, lack of education, and poverty, the report noted, putting their own childhoods at risk.
Yet Tennessee ranks near the top in one measure of childhood well-being: the high school dropout rate. The state had the ninth-lowest dropout rate in the country. Just 12% of kids don’t complete school on time, better than the national average of 16.8%.
13. South Carolina
South Carolina was 36th in the U.S. for infant morality, 35th for childhood malnutrition, 35th for the high school dropout rate, and 35th for teen pregnancy. The state did somewhat better on measures of violence. The homicide and suicide rate for kids younger than 19 was 6.5 per 100,000, putting it in 27th place. The national average is 6.1 per 100,000.
12. South Dakota
South Dakota has the second-worst murder and suicide rate for children in the U.S.: 17 out of 100,000. In some parts of the state, such as the deeply impoverished Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the suicide rate is 7 to 10 times higher than the national average, according to Lakota Children’s Enrichment. The state also ranked 41st for infant mortality, with 7.3 out of 1,000 kids dying before they reached their first birthday, compared to 5.9 nationwide.
Life is hard for many kids in Ohio. The state ranked 36th for violence, 34th for high school dropouts, 36th for malnutrition, and 38th for infant mortality. Teen pregnancy is slightly less common, at 23 per 1,000, putting it in 28th place. In some parts of the state, including Youngstown, Dayton, and Cleveland, more than half of kids live in poverty, Cleveland.com reported.
Nearly 27% of kids in Arizona sometimes don’t get enough to eat, the third-worst rate of child malnutrition in the country. Forty-three percent of children in Apache County, which is home to the Navajo Nation and the Fort Apache and Zuni American Indian Reservations, experience food insecurity. That’s the highest share in the nation, according to Feeding America.
Arizona’s high school dropout rate is also high, at 22.6%. The state did better on rankings of infant mortality (17th) and violence (28th).
Teens in Nevada are more likely to drop out of high school than in any other state except New Mexico. Roughly 29% of students fail to graduate on time, according to Save the Children. In Iowa, which had the best high school completion rate, fewer than 10% of students don’t graduate in four years.
Nevada also ranked 38th for teen pregnancy, 33rd for violence, and 39th for malnutrition. It was 15th for infant mortality.
Whether it was measures of infant mortality (48th), food insecurity, (47th), teen pregnancy (41st), or homicide and suicide (38th), Alabama ranked poorly compared to other states. But this Southern state seems to be doing at least one thing right. It had the third-lowest percentage of high school dropouts after Iowa and New Jersey.
But there’s a catch. The Save the Children report looked at share of high school students who failed to graduate on time in the 2014-15 school year. Alabama officials have now confessed those numbers were inflated. And Alabama isn’t the only state where graduation rates might not be totally accurate. A 2015 report from NPR detailed the various “quick fixes” schools around the country use to boost graduation rates.
Arkansas had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Thirty-eight out of every 1,000 Arkansas teen girls will have a baby before they turn 19. In two counties, Phillips and St. Francis, the teen birth rate in 2013 was 91 and 87 per 1,000, respectively.
Arkansas also had the sixth-worst infant mortality rate in the country. In 2015, 293 babies died before their first birthday, or 7.5 per 1,000. Infant mortality rates across the U.S. are high compared to other industrialized countries, the report noted, and more babies died in this country in 2015 than in 40 European countries combined.
The state ranked 25th for high school dropouts and 26th for violence.
Homicide and suicide rates for children in Alaska are higher than anywhere else in the country. Though the raw numbers are low — 36 murders and suicides among people younger than 19 in 2015 — that translates to a rate of 17.6 per 100,000 because of the state’s small population. Young Alaska native men between the ages of 15 and 24 have the highest rate of suicide of any demographic in the country, according to the State’s Suicide Prevention Council.
Alaska also had a high dropout rate (46th) and teen birth rate (40th). It ranked 35th for infant mortality and 24th for malnutrition.
Infant mortality is higher in Georgia than in most other parts of the U.S., at 7.8 per 1,000. Twenty-six percent of kids suffer from food insecurity, the sixth highest share in the country. The state ranked 33rd for teen pregnancy, 34th for violence, and 40th in on-time high school graduation rates. A quarter of kids in the Peach State live in poverty.
Thirty-five out of every 1,000 Oklahoma teen girls will have a baby before their 19th birthday, the second-highest rate in the country. What’s behind Oklahoma’s high teen pregnancy rate? Tara Grigson of the Oklahoma Policy Institute pointed to a lack of sex education in schools and state laws that keep most teens from accessing birth control without their parents’ consent.
Violence was also a problem for some Oklahoma children. The state had a child homicide and suicide rate of 9.4 per 100,000, worse than all but six other states.
3. New Mexico
New Mexico was in the bottom 10 on 4 out of 5 markers of childhood well-being analyzed by Save the Children. The state had the largest share of high school dropouts in the country, with just over 31% of students failing to graduate on time.
One area where New Mexico is doing better than most other states is infant mortality. It ranked 15th in the U.S., with 5.1 infant deaths per 1,000, lower than the national average.
In Mississippi, the infant mortality rate is 9.3 per 1,000. That’s the highest in the U.S. and above the infant mortality rates in countries, such as Botswana (8.6 per 1,000), Uruguay (8.5 per 1,000), and Costa Rica (8.3 per 1,000).
In addition, 27.4% of kids were living in households that sometimes lacked access to food, the largest share in the country. The state’s teen birth rate was the third-highest in the U.S., and 25% of high school students didn’t graduate on time. In terms of violence, Mississippi ranked 24th.
Louisiana is the worst place for kids in the U.S., according to Save the Children’s analysis. The state ranked in the bottom 10 on every measure the organization looked at: food insecurity (40th), high school dropout rates (43rd), teen pregnancy (45th), infant mortality (46th), and violence (47th).
Nearly 500 Louisiana babies died before their first birthday in 2015, a rate of 7.7 per 1,000. And 129 people younger than 19 were murdered or committed suicide, a rate of 10.5 per 100,000.