New Jersey ranks fifth nationwide for the well-being of children, according to an annual report. While the ranking could be worse, the state recorded some disturbing numbers in certain categories.

In the latest Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private organization dedicated to disadvantaged children, Garden State numbers show dwindling economic comfort among kids. Their economic well-being ranked 18th among the states, with 296,000 children (15 percent) living in homes with incomes below the poverty line.

 

New Jersey 2013 rankings (Annie E. Casey Foundation)

"What's more troubling to me is that the state has a relatively high cost of living," said the foundation's Laura Speer. "Children who are in low-income households are kind of at a double disadvantage because they are also in places where it's relatively expensive to live."

More than 550,000 children have parents who lack secure employment, according to the report. That number jumped 4 percent between 2008 and 2011. More than 30 percent of children are part of single-parent families.

The state scored very well, though, when considering education. New Jersey ranked second overall among the 50 states.

One of the best indicators is the percent of children who attend preschool - 62 percent.

"The fourth grade reading scores and eighth grade math scores are also very strong," added Speer.

Just 13 percent of New Jersey high school students failed to graduate on time, compared to 15 percent in 2005-06.

"This reflects the fact that the state has prioritized education as a very important investment," Speer noted.

She said the foundation hopes local advocates can use these annual numbers to pressure policymakers to make the right decisions.