Louisiana Worst in Nation for Kids

Tuesday, June 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Life for Louisiana children remains riskier, harder and poorer than anywhere else in the country, according to a child advocacy group that tracks the well-being of American children.

In a report issued Tuesday, the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Louisiana at the bottom of the nation for well-being among children in 1997.

Mississippi and Arkansas rank 49th and 48th, respectively, followed by Alabama and New Mexico. Two of the country's largest states, California and Texas, have respective rankings of 26 and 37. Minnesota ranked the highest, followed by New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

The Baltimore, Md.-based foundation began releasing data for its annual Kids Count report in 1990 and Louisiana has lingered at the bottom throughout the 1990s.

The latest report shows that the number of Louisiana babies born with low weight and living in single-parent families grew in 1997, giving the state the worst numbers in the country in those categories.

By 1997, there had been a 1 percent increase in low birth-weight babies compared to 1990 and an 8 percent increase of children living in homes with one parent, the report says.

There were some positive trends: Fewer children are dying and living in poverty and more are graduating from high school, the report says.

``The good news is that we are doing better, but the bad news is that we're still 50th,'' said Judy Watts, head of Agenda for Children, a New Orleans-based child advocacy group.

She said poverty is behind Louisiana's problems: One-third of the state's children live in poverty and about half of the children in New Orleans are from poor families.

``I think as far back as you go, Louisiana has been a poor, rural area,'' said David Hood, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

He said that Gov. Mike Foster's administration is making the health of children a priority and that several health care programs targeting pregnant women, poor rural areas and poor children might break the cycle of poverty for many residents.

The report also says the number of children living in poverty dropped from 32 percent to 30 percent, a sign of improvement.

The state ranked 34th in the percent of school dropouts, the best ranking of 10 indicators considered under the report.

Louisiana's infant mortality rate dipped from 11.1 per 1,000 in 1990 to 9.5 per 1,000 in 1997.

The rate of children dying between the ages of 1 and 14 improved from 38 deaths per 100,000 children at the start of the decade to 34 per 100,000 in 1997.

Also, fewer teen-agers between 15 and 19 were dying from accidents, homicides and suicides in 1997. In 1990, for every 100,000 teen-agers 115 died from those causes and in 1997 84 died.