updated 7/27/2010 9:38:21 AM ET 2010-07-27T13:38:21

New Hampshire again ranks No. 1 nationally in an annual survey on children's well-being. But the numbers also indicate a growing problem in the state: poverty.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its report Tuesday on how the 50 states fared in 10 categories of children's health. Survey organizers said the numbers do not reflect the current economic downturn. The data were collected from 2000 to 2008, before most U.S. families were hit by the recession.

In composite rankings for all indicators, New Hampshire ranked highest, as it has in eight of the last nine years. This year, it was followed by Minnesota and Vermont. Mississippi ranked last.

"That's an incredible record, and it says a lot about how well kids fare in this state," said Ellen Fineberg, president of the Children's Alliance of New Hampshire, a nonprofit group that does research on children in the state.

New Hampshire fared well in most categories, but saw its biggest setback in the percent of children in poverty — a 50 percent increase over eight years. Despite that, New Hampshire still had the lowest child poverty rate of all states.

In 2000, 6 percent of the children in the state were estimated to be living in poverty, according to the survey. In 2008, the number had grown to 9 percent. That translates into about 26,000 children, Fineberg said. The survey uses federal guidelines to define poverty conditions as an income below $21,834 for a family of two adults and two children.

Nationally, the percent of children living in poverty went up 6 percent from 2000 to 2008. Other areas that have worsened nationally are the percent of low-birthweight babies born and the percent of children living in single-parent families. New Hampshire held steady in these categories.

Areas that have improved nationally — as well as in New Hampshire — are the infant mortality rate; the teen death rate; and the percent of teens neither in school nor high school graduates.

Tom Blonski, president and CEO of the New Hampshire chapter of Catholic Charities, said his organization is seeing more unemployed and underemployed families with children asking for assistance.

"With a 15 percent increase in demand for our services over last year, we're doing everything we can to help meet the needs of parents and children with programs like Our Place, for (pregnant and) parenting young adults, St. Charles Children's Home, for abused and neglected children, the New Hampshire Food Bank and our community outreach support services," he said.

"It's easy to think that because we rank lowest in the country for childhood poverty there isn't a problem, but I can tell you that for the 9 percent of children in New Hampshire that are living below the poverty line, it is a big problem," Blonski said.

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The rate increase in New Hampshire indicates that even before the recession set in, there were factors contributing to weakening economic conditions in the family, Fineberg said. Possible reasons could be the departure of manufacturing jobs from the state; the closing of factories, such as the pulp mill in Berlin; and a rising immigration rate.

There are other indicators to reflect troubling economic times for families in New Hampshire. In June, the Department of Health and Human Services reported 51,501 families were on food stamps. That's a 61 percent increase over two years ago, when 31,830 families were receiving them.

And as of last fall, families needing state help with child care had to go on a waiting list. The state said it could no longer afford to help everyone as requests mounted and it needed to eliminate at least a $6 million deficit in state child-care costs. There are about 2,400 children on the list waiting for a subsidy.

"The concern about that is it circles back to who's available or how families are going to manage to pay for child care so they can go to work then opportunity becomes available to them," Fineberg said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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