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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- An annual report released Thursday has ranked Utah fifth in the nation in the well-being of children, down from third last year.
Despite the negative change, Utah improved in five of 10 indicators measured by the 15th annual Kids Count report, including the infant mortality rate and teen death rate.
The 2004 study, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private research and grant-making group, used data from 1996 to 2001 to compare states with one another and with the nation as a whole in categories including death rates, poverty and education.
Utah's number one problem area, according to Terry Haven, director of the Utah Kids Count project, is the 23 percent of children under 18 living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment. Utah fell from 4th in the nation in 1996 to 19th in 2001, worsening by 28 percent, Haven said.
"You've got a whole lot of kids -- 171,000 -- whose families are on the edge, on the brink of poverty. Poverty research shows that living in poverty has bad outcomes in other areas we look at," said Haven, listing the child death rate, the teen birth rate, and the high school dropout rate.
And that is only likely to get worse, she said, as data from 2002 -- and the start of the economic downturn in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- becomes available next year.
The associate chairman of the department of pediatrics at Primary Children's Medical Center and the University of Utah, John Bohnsack, said unemployment or only part-time employment directly affects child health care.
"The impact we see on child health is there is no health insurance for them," Bohnsack said. "I increasingly in my own clinic see kids who do not have that safety net."
In this year's report, Utah improved most substantially in its rate of teen deaths by accident, suicide and homicide, decreasing by 23 percent. The teen birth rate declined 14 percent within the period studied.
The state ranked second best in the nation for infant mortality, with a decrease of 20 percent, which Bohnsack attributed to prenatal programs and the state's "solid family structure." The child death rate decreased by 17 percent and Utah was one of only four states that saw a decrease in the rate of low birth weight babies.
But Utah also fared worse in the number of families with children headed by a single parent. Despite a 21 percent increase in single-parent households, Utah is still ranked best in the nation in this category, with 52,000 families affected.
The study also found that 11 percent of Utah's children, or 78,000 kids, live in poverty, ranking the state fourth best in the nation.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)