The Southwest has been hit particularly hard. New Mexico, for the first time, has slipped to worst in the nation when it comes to child well-being. More than 30 percent of children in the state were living in poverty in 2011 and nearly two-fifths had parents who lacked secure employment, according to this year's Kids Count survey.
Nevada is ranked No. 48, followed by Arizona. Mississippi, which has traditionally held last place, made slight improvements in early childhood education while reading and math proficiency for some students increased, putting the state at No. 49.
Overall, the report shows there have been gains in education and health nationally, but since 2005, there have been serious setbacks when it comes to the economic well-being of children.
''There's little doubt that things are getting worse,'' said Kim Posich, executive director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. ''Aside from the fact the New Mexico economy has been so slow to turn around, the systems that generally serve people who are the working poor and suddenly lose their jobs or face greater hardship, all those systems have been strained beyond the max.''
In Arizona, charities and government programs were cut during the recession, making it more difficult for families to get by and rebuild, said Dana Wolfe Naimark of the Children's Action Alliance in Phoenix.
''So many things were slashed just when people needed it the most,'' she said. ''That is a key policy issue that we do have choices over. We can find ways to rebuild that investment. It's not OK to just throw up our hands and say, 'We can't.'''
According to the Kids Count report, a lingering concern is the effect of unemployment on children, particularly long-term unemployment. Researchers found that more than 4 million workers were unemployed for more than six months, and more than 3 million were without work for a year or more.
Image: Sad child, via Shutterstock