Larger numbers of Illinois children are living in poverty, but fewer of them are becoming parents or dropping out of high school, according to newly released data that examines the well-being of U.S. youths.

Larger numbers of Illinois children are living in poverty, but fewer of them are becoming parents or dropping out of high school, according to newly released data that examines the well-being of U.S. youths.

The percentage of Illinois children living in low-income households went up from 15 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2007, the Annie E. Casey Foundation said in its annual Kids Count report. For a family of four, a poverty-level income is $21,027 or less.

Similarly, poverty increasingly is touching the lives of children all across the country, the report indicated. From 2000 to 2007, the nationwide rate of children in low-income families rose from 17 percent to 18 percent. That means 900,000 more children lived in poverty in 2007 than in 2000, said Laura Beavers, coordinator of the national Kids Count project.

Officials acknowledged the national statistics don't paint a true picture because they fail to take into account the recession that began gripping the country last year.

"This is most disconcerting because this data doesn't include the height of the economic downturn," said Beavers.

The Kids Count report offered some hopeful signs, such as a lower high school dropout rate. But Beavers warned the improvements aren't as substantial as they were in the 1990s.

For example, she said, the teen birth rate is beginning to rise after more than 10 years of steady decline. The trend is the same in almost all 50 states.

The national figures show that in 2006, there were 42 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. A year earlier, the rate was 40 births per 1,000 females. Still, that's better than the rate of 48 births per 1,000 females in 2000.

Overall, the Kids Count report ranked Illinois as 24th in the nation in terms of the well-being of children.

Here's a look at some of the findings dealing with Illinois. The information comes from the Kids Count report and an accompanying online "data center."

Abuse/neglect

On a statewide basis, the rate of child abuse or neglect declined over the two latest years listed in the Kids Count report – from 7.6 per 1,000 children in 2005 to 7.2 per 1,000 in 2006. The rate refers to all cases in which the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services found evidence of abuse or neglect.

But the rate of abuse or neglect has increased noticeably in some individual counties in recent years. In Tazewell County, for instance, it rose from 10.7 per 1,000 in 2005 to 13.0 per 1,000 a year later.

DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said he couldn't immediately comment on the situation with child abuse and neglect in specific counties, but he pointed out that statewide numbers have increased modestly during the past three years.

"Child abuse and neglect and poverty are joined at the hip and always have been," he said. "The stresses of poverty can bring risk of harm to children in families who have raised their children safely up to this point."

"We are actively working to reach out to families before a crisis occurs," Marlowe added.

Births

Illinois' infant mortality rate improved, going from 8.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000 to 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births in 2006. But it's not as good as the national rate, which was 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2006.

In addition, fewer children between ages 1 and 14 are dying. The Illinois rate was 16 deaths per 100,000 children in 2006, compared with 20 deaths per 100,000 children in 2000. That's better than the national rate of 19 per 100,000 in 2006.

The teen birth rate in Illinois dropped. In 2000, it was 48 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. Six years later, it was 39 births per 1,000.

Employment

The statewide unemployment rate went up during the time span that the Casey Foundation scrutinized – from 6.2 percent in 2004 to 6.5 percent in 2008. It's increased since then, edging above 10 percent.

In addition, more children in Illinois are living in families in which no parent has full-time, year-round employment. The figure was 29 percent in 2000, compared with 31 percent in 2007.

Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or adriana.colindres@sj-r.com.

County breakdowns

A new report issued on Tuesday examines the well-being of children across the United States. The data includes state-by-state and county-by county breakdowns.

Here are the most recent two years' worth of statistics from Peoria, Sangamon and Winnebago counties in four categories: low birthweight of newborns, unemployment rate, child abuse or neglect rate per 1,000 children and the percentage of children in poverty. Information for every Illinois county is available at: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/bystate/Default.aspx?state=IL

Peoria County
Low birthweight
2006: 8.7%
2007: 8.5%

Unemployment rate
2007: 4.9%
2008: 6.0%

Child abuse or neglect rate per 1,000 kids
2005: 13.2
2006: 14.0

Children in poverty
2006: 21.3%
2007: 19.1%

Sangamon County

Low birthweight
2006: 8.9%
2007: 9.1%

Unemployment rate
2007: 4.7%
2008: 5.9%

Child abuse or neglect rate per 1,000 kids
2005: 14.4
2006: 12.7

Children in poverty
2006: 18.5%
2007: 18.2%

Winnebago County
Low birthweight
2006: 9.2%
2007: 9.2%

Unemployment rate
2007: 6.3%
2008: 8.9%

Child abuse or neglect rate per 1,000 kids
2005: 13.1
2006: 12.4

Children in poverty
2006: 19.6%
2007: 21.2%

SOURCE: Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count Data Center.

On the Web: datacenter.kidscount.org.