ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A new report on child welfare that found more U.S. children living in poverty than before the Great Recession belies the fanfare of the nation's economic turnaround.
Twenty-two percent of American children were living in poverty in 2013 compared with 18 percent in 2008, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book, with poverty rates nearly double among African-Americans and American Indians and problems most severe in South and Southwest.
The report, released Tuesday from the child advocacy group the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed some signs of slight improvement, including high school graduation rates at an all-time high and a dipping percentage of uninsured children. But the bright spots weren't enough to offset a picture showing many children left behind amid the nation's economic recovery.
The foundation's research covers 16 different measures, delving into economic well-being, health care, education and family and community issues.
The problems extend beyond - and in some cases drive - increasing poverty rates. More children were raised in single-parent homes in 2013 than in 2008, and fewer lived with parents with secure employment.
Foundation President Patrick McCarthy said that particularly troubling is an increase in the share of kids living in poor communities, regardless of their own families' economic standing. The report says 1 in 7 children live in those areas, marked by poor schools and a lack of a safe place to play.
"They're more likely to fall down the economic ladder, less likely to be employed and more likely to get in trouble," McCarthy said.
McCarthy likened child poverty to a "particularly pernicious form of cancer," and he prescribed a cocktail of economic policies and fixes to tackle it.
Tax credits and additional support such as food stamps could give low-income families a much-needed boost, and job training could provide help for struggling to get an economic foothold. Businesses should implement more family-friendly policies, and a massive infrastructure repair campaign could create countless jobs.
"None of them is a magic bullet. When you put them all together, you start to put the children on a path to success," he said.
States in the South and Southwest continued a steady run at the bottom of the Kids Count rankings for overall child well-being, with issues including economic standing and education.
According to the report, 1 in 3 children from Mississippi live in poverty. Twelve percent of teens from Mississippi and Louisiana were neither in school nor working. Fifteen percent of Nevada children didn't have health insurance, compared with the nation-best 2 percent in Massachusetts.
Minnesota nabbed the report's top ranking, taking a spot generally reserved for a Northeast state and rounding out the Midwest's strong pattern of supporting children.
McCarthy said there's not much to make of one state usurping another for a top spot. Instead, he focused on the broader regional patterns: New England and Midwestern states generally occupy the top 10 while the South and Southwest struggle in the bottom rankings.
"That's where you see a difference in day-to-day lives," he said.