In these days of economic prosperity, it's sometimes difficult to fathom that more than 82,000 Utah children live in poverty. Expressed another way, children who live under these conditions could fill the Delta Center, the E Center, Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Mormon Tabernacle, and there would still be 1,000 kids waiting outside for lack of a seat.

Statistically speaking, Utah has one of the smallest percentages of children living in poverty nationwide. But the numbers are skewed by Utah's large population of children, according to child advocates. What matters most is the human condition of the people behind the numbers compiled for the Children's Defense Fund's annual "The State of America's Children" report.

The story behind the statistics is this: Utah needs to do better by its children.

The report, which uses data from 1995-99, shows Utah's public education spending consistently ranked near the bottom nationwide. The report does not take into account the generous infusion appropriated for Utah public schools by the 2000 Legislature, but it is doubtful that Utah will shed its cellar-dweller status in terms of school funding any time soon.

Utahns must also do more to ensure that children receive immunizations on a regular schedule and that poor children gain access to preventative dental and medical care through the federally funded Children's Health Insurance Program. CHIP has made considerable progress in enrolling children but has not yet reached its target of signing up the 30,000 Utah children believed eligible for benefits. Any agency, school or private entity that deals with children should be aware of this program and make referrals.

Surely, there are limits within Utah's tax structure in providing needed services for children. But some problems affecting Utah children can be addressed through advocacy, education and connecting needy families to existing programs.

One crying need is affordable child care, in particular, after-school programs. We are heartened by Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson's commitment to this issue and applaud schools, nonprofit organizations and local governments that have stepped up to address this need.

As more mothers return to the work force in the wake of welfare reform, they need more child-care options. This is particularly true for those parents who work odd hours and on weekends. Utah lawmakers must appropriate sufficient funds to draw down the maximum federal funds available for this purpose.

By some measures in the report, Utah has cause to celebrate. The state's high school graduation rate exceeds 90 percent, despite funding issues. Compared to other states, Utah's percentage of impoverished children is low, according to the Children's Defense Fund's measuring stick.

Such rankings don't mean much to the Utah children who live in poverty. Because they are the state's future, their condition demands immediate attention.