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Report shows Utah in top 10 for well-being of children, but education, poverty issues remain

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SALT LAKE CITY — A relatively strong economy has helped Utah rank among the top 10 states for the well-being of children, even though the number living in poverty increased, according to a national child welfare report released Tuesday.

Poverty numbers grew nationwide, according to the Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation child advocacy group.

It found that 22 percent of American kids were living in poverty in 2013, compared to 18 percent in 2008, despite fanfare over the economic turnaround after the Great Recession. U.S. poverty rates were nearly double among African-Americans and American Indians, with the country's most severe problems coming in the South and Southwest.

In Utah, the percentage of children living in poverty increased from 11 to 15 percent during that timeframe.

The state also ranked in the top 10 on family and health factors affecting children and has the country's lowest percentage living in single-parent households. Two-parent families tend to be more economically stable, said Terry Haven, deputy director with Voices for Utah Children.

Utah's lowest ranking came in education, where the foundation found it was 29th in the country, the same as last year.

Haven cheered the state's two-spot climb in the national rankings to 9th this year but said Utah could do better.

"The reality is we have some pockets that are really problems or at-risk," she said.

More than half of Utah children don't attend preschool, Haven said, even though kids who come into kindergarten with a good preschool education have a jump on school from the beginning,

The foundation said 63 percent of Utah fourth grade students aren't proficient in reading, and a similar portion of eighth graders are behind in math.

"When you've got a parent working three different jobs to put food on the table, they may not have time to do things other parents have done, like read to their children," she said.

State policy makers have begun moving in the right direction, she said.

The percentage of Utah children without health insurance fell to 9 percent between 2008 and 2013, in line with national trends.

Still, Haven pointed out that tens of thousands are still without coverage, and the portion of uninsured kids is 22 percent among Hispanic people.

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