The latest installment of an annual report that examines how Alaska children are faring is out. The Kids Count Alaska Data Book, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, presents statistics that indicate how children and teens are doing in terms of health, safety, education and economic status. Virgene Hanna of UAA's Institute of Social and Economic Research, is project director for Alaska.
Among the key points:
Alaska continues to have among the lowest rates in the country of babies born with low birth weight, under 5.5 pounds, with just 6 percent born dangerously small in 2009. Only South Dakota had a lower rate. But accidents and SIDS are more likely to kill babies in Alaska compared with the nation as a whole.
Alaska has among the country's highest rates of death among children and teenagers. Because the Alaska raw numbers are small and year-to-year comparisons fluctuate widely, researchers prefer to compile state rates based on five years worth of data. By that measure, 88 Alaska teens per 100,000 died from 2005 to 2009, including 66 per 100,000 termed violent: homicides, suicides and accidents. Overall the U.S. death rate of teens 15 to 19 has been dropping, from 67 per 100,000 in 2000 to 58 per 100,000 in 2008.
More than 70 percent of children in a dozen rural Alaska school districts come from families that rely on some type of public assistance and in some districts, 90 percent of the children belong to such families. In Anchorage, though, about one-third of the children come from families receiving help, such as food stamps, Medicaid or cash assistance.
Another measure examines children living below the federal poverty threshold, which in 2010 was $22,113 for a family of four. While Alaska's child poverty rate is among the nation's lowest, it crept up from 11 percent in 2008 to 13 percent in 2010.
Alaska had one of the country's highest rates of teens between the ages of 16 and 19 who were neither working nor in school. Some have drug or alcohol problems, or are struggling with mental issues. Some are in juvenile detention. Some are already parents themselves. Alaska's rate of what some sociologists call "idle teens" was 11 percent in 2010, compared to a national average of 9 percent.
Source: Kids Count Alaska Data Book 2011-2012
By LISA DEMER