The official child poverty rate, a conservative measurement of economic hardship, increased 18 percent within the past decade, a new study shows.

Data released on Wednesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, show that over the last decade there has been a significant decline in the economic well-being for low-income children and their families.

The KIDS COUNT Data Center provides information about the 10 key measures tracked in the Data Book in addition to hundreds of other indicators of child well-being by state, county, city, and congressional district.

That the rate between 2000 and 2009 increased 18 percent,  that puts it back  to the levels it was in the early 1990s, the study states.

This 18 percent increase translates to 2.4 million more children who are living below the federal poverty line, according to a press release on the study.

"In 2009, 42 percent of our nation's children, or 31 million, lived in families with incomes below twice the federal poverty line or $43,512/year for a family of four, a minimum needed for most families to make ends meet," said Laura Speer, associate director for Policy Reform and Data at the Casey Foundation, in a statement.

The data also show that job and foreclosure crisis between that period had an impact on children.

Last year, 11 percent of children had at least one unemployed parent and 4 percent have been affected by foreclosure since 2007, according to the data.

"The recent recession has wiped out many of the economic gains for children that occurred in the late 1990s," Speer said. "Nearly 8 million children lived with at least one parent who was actively seeking employment but was unemployed in 2010."

That figure is double the number in 2007, she added.

"The news about the number of children who were affected by foreclosure in the United States is also very troubling because these economic challenges greatly hinder the well-being of families and the nation," Speer said.

But the growing poverty rate isn't all the Data Book provides information on.

It also states the most current information about 10 key measures of child well-being the foundation has tracked over the last 20 years.

Since 2000, the foundation has found that:

  • Five areas have improved: the infant mortality rate, child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate, and the percent of teens not in school and not high school graduates.
  • Three areas have worsened: the percent of babies born low-birthweight, the child poverty rate, and the percent of children living in single-parent families.
  • Two areas are not comparable: changes made to the American Community Survey's (ACS) 2008 questionnaire regarding employment affected the ability to track trends for the percent of teens not in school and not working, and the percent of children in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment. Although comparisons cannot be made back to 2000, both indicators worsened between 2008 and 2009.

States are also ranked in the Data Book based on their performance across the 10 indicators of child well-being.

The foundation said New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Massachusetts rank highest, while Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi rank the lowest.

Eight states with the biggest improvements in their rankings between 2000 and the most recent years of data are New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia and Wyoming. Finally, the five states with the biggest drops in their rankings are South Dakota, Maine, West Virginia, Hawaii and Montana.

"The research and data tell us that children who grow up in low-income families are less likely to successfully navigate life's challenges and achieve future success," said Patrick T. McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation, in a statement.  "To decrease the numbers of children who are at risk for bad outcomes as a consequence of economic hardship, we must invest in strategies that can help children reach their full potential. In the wake of the recession, the Casey Foundation urges policymakers to focus on ensuring the next generation of children is healthy, educated, and prepared to compete in a global economy."

In the meantime, the foundation recommends six strategies that can help move low-income families onto the path for prosperity. Those strategies are to:

  • Strengthen and modernize unemployment insurance (UI) and promote foreclosure prevention and remediation efforts;
  • Preserve and strengthen existing programs that supplement poverty-level wages, offset the high cost of child care, and provide health insurance coverage for parents and children;
  • Promote savings and asset protection and help families gain financial knowledge skills;
  • Promote responsible parenthood and ensure that mothers-to-be receive prenatal care;
  • Ensure that children are developmentally ready to succeed in school; and
  • Promote reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

"There is a great deal of knowledge about how to help struggling families get back on track and increase their children's chances for success while building a vibrant economy," McCarthy said.

He added that in the years following World War II, great progress were made in child well-being and in decreasing many of the disparities associated with the differences in income and wealth, and race and ethnicity.

"Our challenge now is to find the will to make sound investments that can improve the economic prospects for families today while preparing our children for the future," McCarthy said.