Editorial: State needs to keep an eye on its children
New Hampshire is slipping, and its most vulnerable residents are the ones at risk. No, we’re not talking about the mentally ill, or the homeless, or populations that the state has sometimes disregarded in the past. Instead, we’re talking about the state’s children.
The Kids Count index, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows the state dropping from first to fourth place in an overall ranking of children’s well-being. While the reasons for the drop aren’t entirely clear (and the information used in the rankings comes from 2012), it’s a cause for concern and quick yet thoughtful action. Ultimately, it might mean rethinking some of what New Hampshire’s politicians have considered the state’s core values.
The overall ranking has several components – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. New Hampshire stayed the same in the education and family and community categories (fourth and first respectively). It slipped three notches in health, from 13 to 16. But it dropped a full five spots in economic well-being, from seven to 12.
In other words, families in New Hampshire aren’t making as much money and are finding it harder to keep their heads above water. The number of the state’s children in poverty increased from 33,000 in 2011 to 42,000 in 2012. And an even greater number live in families where the parents don’t have secure jobs – 72,000 in 2012, up from 65,000 the year before.
These numbers reveal the limitations of New Hampshire’s treasured small-government, libertarian philosophy. It’s all very well to insist that men and women pull themselves up by their bootstraps, making the most of what they have while seizing the day. But once the cliches run out, the reality remains that children are not in a position to take such opportunities. They are dependent upon adults. And if the adults upon whom they depend are unable to provide adequate support, the state must act.
Several experts pointed to New Hampshire’s lack of a state minimum wage. That means that the lowest-paid workers in the state make $7.25 an hour – the least of all New England states. While conservatives may insist that rock-bottom wages are needed for a vibrant economy, we would ask whether making children part of that trade-off alters their view.
As the economy goes through structural changes that make it ever-harder for those with only a high school education to find reliable work, those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder are finding it difficult to climb higher. Immigrants and others new to our country need guidance to know what opportunities exist. This state isn’t composed solely of wealthy, elderly white men, after all.
Make no mistake: New Hampshire is still in an enviable place. Our education system is high quality, and children here are better off than those in dozens of other states. But as the state’s mental health care system has shown, infrastructure can fray shockingly quickly. Resources can dwindle. Residents can be hurt. And it’s often not until the suffering makes the news or courtroom that change comes.
For our children’s sake, let’s not allow that to happen this time.