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Mississippi sees some improvements in child well being despite overall low ranking



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Mississippi ranks among the lowest ranked states for child well being again this year, reports the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its annual KIDS COUNT® Data Book.

At #48, only Louisiana and New Mexico rank lower than the Magnolia State. States in Appalachia, the South and the Southwest, where families have the lowest income levels, account for the 18 lowest levels of child well being, with the exceptions of California and Alaska.

The good news for Mississippi is that our statistics for most categories have improved or remained steady since 2010. The bad news is that the state has a long way to go to reach national averages, much less to rise to the top of the rankings.

This year’s edition begins by exploring how America’s child population—and the American childhood experience—has changed since 1990, the foundation states on its website. The data book tracks 16 areas in four domains: economic well-being, education, family and community, and health.

There’s some good news to share on the national front: Of the 16 areas of child well-being tracked, 11 have improved since the foundation published its first Data Book 30 years ago. The data reveal, in the United States today, more parents are financially stable and living without burdensome housing costs. More teens are graduating from high school and delaying parenthood. And access to children’s health insurance has increased compared to just seven years ago.

But it is not all good news. The risk of babies being born at a low weight continues to rise, racial inequities remain systemic and stubbornly persistent and 12% of kids across the country are still growing up in areas of concentrated poverty.

New Hampshire has claimed the No. 1 spot in overall child well-being, followed by Massachusetts and Iowa.

Where Mississippi stands

The foundation outlined where Mississippi stands and where it needs to improve in a statement.

  • Like much of the nation, Mississippi has seen modest improvements in economic well-being since 1990, now ranking 47th in this domain. The state still has 27 percent of its children living in poverty, ranking 48th on this indicator. This number is down slightly from 1990, when 33 percent of Mississippi children lived in poverty. Additionally, according to the Current Population Survey, 33 percent of children in the state live in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment, putting Mississippi 48th in the nation on this specific indicator. This is also slightly down from 1990, when this was reality for 39 percent of children. Therefore, despite minimal long-term improvement, the state is not addressing the needs of children in poverty as well as other states.
  • In education, Mississippi ranked 44th among states. While the state still ranks 48th in the percentage of fourth graders scoring below proficient in reading (73 percent), this represents an improvement from 1990, when 86 percent of children scored below proficient. This year, Mississippi also ranks 47th for the percentage of eighth graders scoring below proficient in math (78 percent).
  • Mississippi ranked 47th in health this year. The biggest success for many states has been an increase in children’s access to health insurance. Mississippi has improved from a 17 percent child uninsured rate in 1990 to just 6 percent according to the Current Population Survey.
  • Mississippi ranks near the bottom of the nation in the family and community domain, at 49th. Given the changing nature of family structure, it’s not surprising that the percentage of Mississippi children living in single-parent families has increased to 46 percent in 2017 from 35 percent in 1990. However, the percentage of children living in a family here the household head lacks a high school diploma has decreased, from 35 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2017.

Changing Demographics and the Need to Support All Children

The 2019 Data Book notes that, nationwide, children of color now make up a greater proportion of the overall child population. Mississippi has historically had a relatively high African American child population, which has held constant  from 1990 (45 percent of child population) to 2017 (43 percent).

But the state has also seen increases in American Indian or Alaska Native children (from 2,997 in 1990 to 4,578 in 2017) and Hispanic children (from 4,889 in 1990 to 33,140 in 2017). This means that half of Mississippi’s child population is now non-white.

“Now more than ever it is imperative that Mississippi implement researched-based policies that have been demonstrated to lift families out of poverty, such as a state Earned Income Tax Credit,” said Dr. Linda Southward, co-director of Mississippi KIDS COUNT. “Poverty is connected to children’s health and education, and disproportionately impacts children of color. Given the changing demographics in Mississippi, we have children who are more likely to be disenfranchised economically, which reinforces the importance of looking at children’s issues through an economic lens.”

Solutions to child poverty exist. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine just released “A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty,” which outlines 10 policy and program approaches to reducing child poverty, including modifications to support working parents through the Earned Income Tax Credit, child care subsidies and minimum wage.

Additionally, they point to modifications to safety net programs that benefit children and families, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the housing choice voucher program.

“In order for Mississippi to receive federal matching dollars for many of the programs that provide needed services for children, it will be imperative that the state counts all its children in the upcoming 2020 census,” added Dr. Heather Hanna, co-director of Mississippi KIDS COUNT. “Federal programs send states funding based on the numbers of children counted in the census. If we undercount our children, then we will not receive adequate funding to ensure all children have an opportunity for optimal development and success. Continuation and growth of these programs are essential in leveling the playing field for all children and raising Mississippi’s rankings relative to other states.”

“America’s children are one quarter of our population and 100 percent of our future,” said Casey Foundation President and CEO Lisa Hamilton. “All of the 74 million kids in our increasingly diverse country have unlimited potential, and we have the data, knowledge and evidence to create the policies that will help them realize it. It’s incumbent on us to do just that.”

To read more about the 2019 KIDS COUNT Data Book including the complete Mississippi profile, go to the Annie E. Casey Foundation website.

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