Good news for Mississippi!
For the first time in the 24 years that the Annie E. Casey Foundation has been compiling state-by-state statistics on the well-being of children and families in its Kids Count Index, Mississippi ranked #49, not #50, overall. New Mexico took over the bottom spot.
In January 2013, we reported on new state-level data on Medicaid and food-stamp enrollment released by Kaiser Health, and the numbers painted a bleak picture for child poverty in this country.
Kids Count, released this week, brings more disturbing news: although there have been some gains in education and health nationally, there have been serious setbacks when it comes to the economic well-being of children. In the United States overall, a shocking 23 percent of children live in poverty, but in the bottom five states, the numbers are even worse:
50. New Mexico
In New Mexico, that number rises to 31 percent. That means that 157,00 children, out of a total of around 506,450, live in extreme poverty. One reason is that 37 percent of kids in the state have parents who lack secure employment. Tragically, 79 percent of fourth graders are not proficient in reading, which is actually an improvement by one percent over the 2005 number. It seems that New Mexico has taken over from Mississippi as the worst state in the country for kids to live when it comes to a range of issues.
Mississippi may no longer be the worst state to be a kid, but the numbers are still troubling. Its 32 percent of children living in poverty has worsened from 2005, when it was 31 percent, and is actually higher than New Mexico’s rate. The state makes up for this with improvements in education and health: only 8 percent of kids are without health insurance, and half of the state’s eligible students attend preschool.
This year’s report ranks the state of Nevada at #48, the third worst state for child well-being. This is a huge downturn from 2011, when the state ranked #26. In the education category, Nevada ranked last. 75 percent of fourth graders are not proficient in reading, and 42 percent of high school students in Nevada fail to graduate on time. Nevada ranked #47 in the country in the health category.
Coming in at fourth worst is Arizona, which has slipped from #46 to #47. Here, 27 percent of kids live in poverty; that’s 435,000 children out of approximately 1.6 million total. Even more depressing, 67 percent of children in the state do not attend preschool, which puts the state next-to-last in that category for the second straight year, and 74 percent of the state’s fourth graders are not proficient in reading.
Louisiana ranks #46, or fifth worst in the nation for overall child well-being, a slight improvement from last year’s #47. The percentage of fourth-grade students scoring below proficient in reading decreased by four percent, but it is still at 77 percent, while 78 percent of eighth graders were labeled “not proficient in math.” The state also exceeded the national child poverty rate; 29 percent, or 317,000 children live in poverty in Louisiana.
These numbers, while depressing, are not surprising. In April 2013, a UNICEF survey of 29 countries ranked the U.S #26 in child well-being, just above Lithuania, Latvia and Romania (three of the poorest countries in the survey). On child poverty, the U.S. did even worse, coming in at #28.
But let’s get back to Mississippi.
“While we are not where we need to be, the fact that our child and teen death rate, along with some decrease in the percentage of children without health insurance has been helpful,” Mississippi Kids Count Director Linda Southward told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
Keep moving up, Mississippi, one small step at a time.
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