For the second consecutive year, the well-being of Pennsylvania's children slipped in a national ranking based on health, education, poverty, and family and community connections, while New Jersey moved up a notch, boosted by major improvements in the health of its youth.
Among states overall, New Jersey came in seventh; in terms of education alone, it was second, trailing only Massachusetts.
When all measures were considered, Pennsylvania was 18th, down from 17th last year and 16th in 2014.
"In short, we're moving in the wrong direction," said Mike Race, spokesman for Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, a nonprofit advocacy group. "This is reflecting our failure to invest aggressively enough in programs that help kids."
The rankings were released Tuesday in the 2016 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based philanthropy that has supported child-welfare programs since 1948.
The report had positive news about American teenagers, dubbed Generation Z: They gave birth to significantly fewer babies since last year, and drug and alcohol abuse were down, along with the percentage of high school students who did not graduate on time between 2008 and 2014.
While adolescent health is a success story, the report noted that teens growing up in low- to moderate-income households nationwide have few opportunities to move up the economic ladder, and that a college education is out of reach for most low-income students.
The researchers found unemployment rates for high school graduates to be 28 percent for blacks, 17 percent for Latinos, and 15 percent for whites. Those with jobs earn $10.66 an hour on average.
"Armed with only a high school degree, the future prospects for young adults are bleak," the authors of the book concluded.
Minnesota was once again the number-one state for overall child well-being, followed by Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, a newcomer to the top five. Mississippi remained the lowest ranked, with New Mexico, Louisiana, Nevada, and Alabama rounding out the bottom five.
In Pennsylvania, children are still suffering through tough economic times due to a sluggish recovery, according to the report. Poverty continues to be a challenge in many households, and a large number of children live in homes where parents lack high school diplomas.
In the individual measures used by the researchers, Pennsylvania was 22nd in economic well-being, down from 19th last year; 10th in education, compared with seventh last year; 25th in family and community, the same as last year; and 13th in health, up from 21st last year.
Since 2008, the percentage of children living in poverty in the state has risen from 17 percent to 19 percent. Fewer children are living in households that pay more than 30 percent of pretax income for housing, from 34 percent to 32 percent.
Fewer of the state's 3- and 4-year olds are in pre-school, although more high school students graduated on time.
Between 2008 and 2014, more children had health insurance, fewer teens abused drugs and alcohol, and fewer children and teens died.
Births to teens dropped dramatically, from 30 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2014. Children in single-parent families rose from 32 percent to 35 percent. More teens were not in school and not working.
In New Jersey, which moved up from eighth nationally in 2015 and 2014, education benchmarks, such as graduation rates and eighth-grade math proficiency, improved. However, fewer young children were in school. In addition, the child poverty level and the percentage of children living with unemployed parents worsened.
New Jersey's biggest improvements were in children's health. There were fewer low-birth-weight babies, children without health insurance, child and teen deaths, and teens who abused drugs and alcohol.
Mary Coogan, assistant director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, said the state's health-care gains reflect a collaborative push to get children insured.
"It's very encouraging," she said, "that all those efforts have paid off."