AUGUSTA — More Maine children are living in poverty, and more are smoking. At the same time, fewer are facing arrest, more are exercising daily and more have places to go for primary medical care.

The mixed bag of statistics is among the findings in the latest edition of Maine KIDS Count, an annual compendium of facts about Maine’s children and their well-being.

In 2008, 16.5 percent of Maine kids lived in households that met federal poverty guidelines. That was up from 15.7 percent in 2007, according to the report.

That has implications for children’s health, educational achievement and likelihood for employment success in the future, said Dean Crocker, president of the Maine Children’s Alliance, which puts together the KIDS Count report.

Children who grow up in poverty are “much less likely to graduate from high school and go on to have a good job,” he said Monday at a State House event held to introduce the report’s findings.

“The facts of poverty speak loudly,” he said, “and we should listen.”

For the Maine Children’s Alliance, Crocker said, that means lobbying for more federal funding to maintain the “safety net” for Maine’s poorest citizens.

Low-income students lag their peers in standardized tests in school, the KIDS Count data show. Some 53 percent of low-income third-graders were proficient in reading during 2008-09 testing, compared with 74 percent of students not considered low-income.

That achievement gap widens as low-income students get older, said Elinor Goldberg, the Maine Children’s Alliance’s executive vice president.

In 11th grade, 33 percent of low-income students were proficient in reading during the 2008-09 school year, compared with 55 percent of their better-off peers.

Next year’s report, Crocker said, could be more grim, reflecting statistics from 2009 and the “deepening recession.”

The statistics do point to the need for more jobs in Maine, said Gov. John Baldacci, who used the Maine KIDS Count findings as an opportunity to tout his $79 million bond proposal. “The best social service program is a good-paying job,” he said.

The 2010 KIDS Count report wasn’t all bad news.

Fewer Maine children were overweight in 2007 than in 2003, according to the report. Some 15.3 percent of children were overweight in 2007, on par with the national average and down from 17.3 percent in 2003.

Obesity rates among Maine children stayed about the same during that period, increasing to 12.9 percent in 2007 from 12.7 percent in 2003.

And the percentage of children participating in daily, vigorous physical activity rose to 32.7 percent in 2007, up from 24.5 percent in 2003.

The complete KIDS Count report is online at


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