The South as a whole is still the worst section of the country when it comes to the welfare of children, but states of the Southwest are beginning to push their Southeastern cousins aside.

That’s not because the South is doing that much better than before, it’s because states in the Southwest have gotten worse and bumped them down.

Even perennially bottom-dwelling Mississippi lost its worst spot rant and fell to second.

New Mexico claimed Mississippi’s old title and three other Southwestern states, Nevada, Arizona and Texas took positions in the bottom 10.

Those are among findings in the latest annual report from Kids Count, a national effort by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to highlight the problems facing the nation’s children and find solutions.

The report, released this morning, measures child well-being in four areas — economic, education, health, and family and community.

Experts say the Southwest’s lowly rankings are largely due to large populations of poor immigrants, particularly Hispanics, and the lingering impact of the recession on those clinging to the bottom rungs of the nation’s economy.

In South Carolina, children’s welfare slipped compared to other Southern states. The state’s overall rank in child well-being dropped two slots to the 45th worst in the nation, falling behind Georgia and Alabama.

South Carolina fell compared to the previous year in three of Kids Count’s four measures. Only in family and community did the state remain constant at 43rd. However, the report cites concern because more children live in high-poverty areas with single parents.

“Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development,”the report says. “Poverty and financial stress can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn.”

Almost three out of every 10 children in South Carolina live below the poverty line, census figures show. And only three of the state’s more than 80 public school districts have less than 50 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunches, which educators consider a measure of poverty.

The Kids Count report, which used data from 2011, mirrors findings in a four-day investigative series published earlier this year by The Post and Courier. The series, “Forgotten South Carolina,” blamed the state’s continuing failure to invest in the building block of society, education, economic opportunity and health care with leaving whole sections of the state in Third World conditions.

The Kids Count report says the “most drastic” decline for children in South Carolina came in the area of economic well-being. The state dropped from 34th to 44th, a significant year-to-year fall, the report notes.

The report cites persistent high unemployment and the lingering impact of the recession as reasons,

Sue Williams, chief executive of Children’s Trust of South Carolina, which heads Kids Count in the state, said in a prepared statement that she was hopeful that Gov. Nikki Haley’s job recruitment efforts “will provide the relief and the financial security our families and children need.”

The state Department of Commerce says that during Haley’s administration more than 35,000 jobs have been announced in 254 separate projects in 45 of the state’s 46 counties.

Still, the state’s average unemployment rate of 8 percent is higher than the national average of 7.5 percent, and in 13 counties unemployment percentage continues to run in double digits.

South Carolina also dropped in the education category, falling from 40th to 41st, largely because nearly a third of all high school students do not graduate on time.

Bud Ferillo, producer and director of the documentary film “Corridor of Shame,” which details South Carolina’s neglect of rural school districts, particularly those along Interstate 95, said it’s time for the state to take action.

“We need far stronger leadership and collaboration between the public, private and philanthropic communities on all these fronts. Real change starts with caring that these dire circumstances deeply matter to our future and the conviction that all South Carolinians deserve a better lot in life. We don’t have to accept low national rankings as our permanent fate. Just because we were born into a state reeling from poverty doesn’t mean we have to die in one,” Ferillo said.

The health of South Carolina’s children also slipped in the rankings, falling from 40th to 44th.

“We are moving in the wrong direction,” Williams’ statement said. “We need to be doing whatever it takes to ensure that our children are moving out of poverty and that they are healthy, educated, and have a strong family system.”

Reach Doug Pardue at 937-5558