Screenshot from the Annie E. Casey Foundation website

KIDS COUNT, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has released its annual Data Book. It’s a comprehensive look at children’s lives that’s meant to urge “policymakers not to back away from targeted investments that help U.S. children become healthier, more likely to complete high school and better positioned to contribute to the nation’s economy as adults.”

The Data Book has a mix of good and bad news: progress in some areas and lapses in others.

“The U.S. continues to have one of the highest child poverty rates among all developed countries,” Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform and advocacy for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said in a press release. “This unfairly burdens our young people and the nation, costing an estimated $500 billion a year in reduced economic opportunities and increased health and criminal justice-related costs.”

Among this year’s national findings:

• “Economic incentives produced slight gains for families”

– more parents are employed

– fewer families are living with a significant housing cost burden, and

– fewer children are living in poverty

• More families are, however, “living in high-poverty neighborhoods” and making “minimal gains in education”

– “From 2011 to 2015, 14 percent of children lived in areas where poverty rates were at or above 30 percent”

– Poverty “has a stranglehold on parts of the United States, especially in the South and Southwest, where children face economic, health and academic challenges with few policies and investments to mitigate them.”

– 68 percent of eighth graders scored below proficient in math in 2015, up from 2009.

– nearly two-thirds of students in fourth grade lack reading proficiency, and

– attendance in pre-K programs for 3- and 4-year-olds “remains stagnant, with 53 percent not accessing these beneficial services”

New Hampshire ranks first in overall child well-being, followed by Massachusetts and Vermont. “Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi were the three lowest-ranked states.”

As the Worcester Business Journal explains, “Massachusetts fared well overall in education and economic indicators, with a low child poverty rate and a low percentage of teens neither attending school nor working. However, high housing costs and a tough employment for parents drags down the economic well-being of children, according to the report.”

To learn more about Massachusetts go to the MassBudget website (the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center). MassBudget is the lead KIDS COUNT organization in the state. Earlier this year it released an important report on Massachusetts’ risk of losing federal funding if Congress acts on a number of budget proposals. The report looks at the threat to CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as to federal funding for child care, welfare, and food stamps. (Strategies for Children serves on the Massachusetts KIDS COUNT advisory council.)

Be sure to check out the KIDS COUNT report. It’s a chronicle of accomplishments and of the hard work that lies ahead.

In summary, Patrick McCarthy, Annie E. Casey’s president and CEO, says in the press release, “Eight years after the most devastating recession of our lifetime, we are pleased to see some positive trends in many areas of child well-being.

“As policymakers search for ideas to expand the economy and bring economic opportunity to families, I urge them not to abandon targeted public investments that are helping more people lift themselves out of poverty and gain access to health care.”