OKLAHOMA CITY — Nearly 1 in 4 Oklahoma children live in poverty and the number of children living in high-poverty areas has more than doubled since 2000, according to a national study released Tuesday.
The 25th annual Kids Count report from the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Oklahoma 39th in 16 indicators across four areas: economic well-being, education, health and family and community. The state dropped from 36th in 2013, one of the largest declines in the national listing.
"There are a couple of areas where we improved, but even with the improvement, Oklahoma isn't doing very well, really, on outcomes for children," said Terry Smith, president of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, which directs the Oklahoma Kids Count.
Nationally, the poverty rate increased from 19 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2012. The states with the highest overall child well-being rankings are Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota. The lowest ranking states are Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi.
The report shows that 1 in 10 teens ages 16 to 19 was not attending school and not working in 2012, which is a 25 percent increase from 2008.
But there are some bright spots in the report. Reading proficiency improved by 7 percent from 2005 to 2013, while math proficiency improved by 5 percent during the same time period.
Teen births among girls age 15 to 19 years old decreased 13 percent, from 54 teen births per 1,000 in 2005 to 47 teen births per 1,000 in 2012.
But Smith said the teen birth rate is still a problem.
"It's really a struggle in Oklahoma. We're really one of the worst states in the country for teen birth rates. Even though we did improve — and that's a positive thing — our numbers are still not good."
The state also needs to do a better job supporting the teens once they become mothers — helping them take care of their babies, stay in school and get a job, Smith said.
Laura Speer, the associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said it's surprising Oklahoma doesn't fare as well economically as other states in the Great Plains region with a strong energy sector.
States such as South Dakota and North Dakota are among the best states in the country for economic well-being for kids, she said.
"In lots of ways, Oklahoma should be right up there with them. There's something there around the employment rate in Oklahoma. They're lagging behind those other Plains states," she said.