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The List: How Do New Jersey Children Fare in National Well-Being Rankings?

NJ ranks eighth-best overall in national kids' well-being ratings, but ranks near bottom for number of children living in families struggling to pay for housing

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Life is pretty good for children in New Jersey, better than it is for kids in more than 80 percent of the states, according to the 2015 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

This annual gauge of child well-being, released last week, looks at key indicators to determine how youth fare throughout the nation.

New Jersey ranked eighth overall among the states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Of the four categories of data, the state fared best in education, coming in second place, and worst in economic well-being, placing 26th.

Within those broad four areas, the report chose four more indicators each, for a total of 16 grades. Of the 16 areas graded, New Jersey's performance improved or stayed the same in 10 and worsened in the other six. New Jersey ranked among the top half in all but three of those areas.

All the data used for the current rankings are from the year 2013 or an average of years including 2013.

Here are the specific areas in which New Jersey ranked highest and lowest among the 16 categories

Five best rankings:

1. Percentage of teenagers who abuse alcohol or drugs

Tied for first. An estimated 5 percent of New Jersey teens, or about 36,000, used illegal substances. That's an improvement over the 7 percent rate in 2007-08 and better than the national average of 6 percent abusing drugs or alcohol.

2. Percentage of eighth-graders not proficient in math

Ranked second. Just over half of eighth-graders were not proficient in math, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That's 9 points better than the 60 percent who were not proficient in 2007. Nationally, two-thirds of eighth- graders did not achieve proficiency.

3. Child and teen death rate

Tied for secondnd. About 17 of every 100,000 people between the ages of 1 and 19 died, for a total of 373 deaths in that age group. That was better than the 2008 death rate of 20 per 100,000. Nationally, the rate was 24 deaths per 100,000 children and teens.

4. Percentage of children not attending preschool

Ranked third. About 39 percent of preschool-age children – about 84,000 -- were not in school. While that was the third-lowest percentage in the nation, it represented a decline for New Jersey from 2007-09, when only 36 percent of children were not in preschool. Nationally, 54 percent of children did not attend preschool.

5. Teen birth rate

Tied for fourth. A total of 4,188 teens had a baby, representing a birth rate of 15 per 1,000. That was better than the rate of 24 births per 1,000 teens in 2008 and better than the national rate of 26 births per 1,000 teens.

Five worst rankings:

1. Percentage of children in a household with a high housing cost burden

Ranked 50th. Some 891,000 children -- 44 percent of all children in the state -- lived in families that spent more than 30 percent of their pre-tax income on housing-related expenses, including rent or mortgage, taxes and insurance. Only in California and New York did a greater proportion of children live in households with such high housing costs. Still, it was better than New Jersey’s 47 percent housing burden in 2008. Nationally, 36 percent of children live in families paying high housing costs.

2. Percentage of babies born at a low birth weight

Tied for 32nd. There were 8,469 babies, or 8.3 percent of all those born, with a a low birth weight, meaning they weighed less than 5.5 pounds. That was slightly better than the 8.4 percent low-birthweight rate in 2008. Nationally, 8 percent of babies are born weighing less than 5.5 pounds.

3. Percentage of children living in high poverty areas

Tied for 18th. Some 8 percent of New Jersey children, or 172,000, lived in high-poverty areas – defined as places where at least 3 in 10 people have income below the federal poverty level. That was worse than the 6 percent who lived in high-poverty areas in 2010, as calculated in a five-year average by the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationally, 14 percent of children live in poor neighborhoods.

4. Percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment

Ranked 16th. Fully 559,000 children, or 28 percent of all, were living in a family where no parent had a full-time, year-round job. That was worse than the 2008 rate of 23 percent. Nationally, 31 percent of children have one or both parents lacking secure employment.

5. Percentage of households where the head of the home lacks a high school diploma.

Tied for 16th. One in 10 children in the state, or 203,000, lived in a household headed by a person who did not earn a high school diploma. That proportion was unchanged from 2008. Nationally, 14 percent of children have parents or another caregiver who didn't finish high school or get a diploma.

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