By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
For the 10th year in a row, Mississippi ranks last place in child welfare, according to The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “2011 Kids Count Data Book” released last week.
The foundation collects statistics from every state to get an overall picture of the child welfare in the United States. Other southeastern states, including Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky, all ranked within the bottom 10 in the country overall as well.
“They look at 10 indicators that affect a child’s overall well-being, like infant mortality rate — things like that,” said Anne Buffington, of the Family and Children Research Unit at Mississippi State University where the Mississippi Kids Count is located. “Unfortunately, Mississippi led the way in seven out of ten of those categories.”
The key indicators look at a child’s life from birth until adulthood and examine factors including: low birthweight, infant mortality rate, the percentage of teens who are not in school and not high school graduates, and percentage of children in a single-parent family.
Mississippi and 45 other states saw an increase in the percentage of low-birthweight babies, defined as a baby weighing less than 5.5 pounds at birth. These babies are at high risk of developmental disabilities and dying within their first year. Smoking, lack of prenatal nutrition, poverty and stress can cause low birthweight. Mississippi saw an increase from 10.7 percent of babies being born at a low birthweight in 2000 to 11.8 percent in 2008. The national average increased from 7.6 percent in 2000 to 8.2 percent in 2008. Oktibbeha County’s average was 15.9 percent in 2005 but dropped to 9.8 percent in 2009. Mississippi ranked last in the nation in the low birthweight category.
Despite an increase in low-birthweight babies, the infant mortality rate has decreased both statewide and on the national level, though only slightly. In 2000, Mississippi had 10.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, which decreased to 10 deaths per 1,000 in 2007. The national average was significantly lower compared to Mississippi in 2000 — 6.9 deaths per 1,000 births — but decreased to just 6.8 in 2007. In 2000, Oktibbeha County had an infant mortality rate of 6.4 deaths per thousand — lower than the national average at that time. In 2008, that figure rose to 9.6 deaths per 1,000. Mississippi ranked last in the infant mortality category.
Child death rates — the number of deaths per 100,000 children between 1-14 years old — reflects the health of children, access to health care, the community environment and the use of safety practices. Accidents are the leading cause of death for these children — usually car accidents that could be easily prevented by wearing a seatbelt. The average rate in Mississippi fell eight percent, from 37 deaths in 2000 to 34 deaths per 100,000 children in 2007. The national average fell as well, from 22 deaths in 2000 to 19 deaths per 100,000 children in 2007. Mississippi ranked last in the child death rate category.
Teen death rates — the number of deaths per 100,000 teens between 15-19 years old — are largely attributed to motor vehicle accidents, homicides or suicides. Mississippi averaged 103 deaths per 100,000 teens in 2000, which fell to 98 deaths in 2007. The national average saw a decrease as well, going form 67 deaths in 2000 to 62 deaths per 100,000 in 2007. Mississippi ranked 49th in the teen death category. Alaska ranked 50th with 100 deaths per 100,000 teens in 2007.
Teen birth rates affect not only the mother but the baby as well. Babies born to teenage mothers are more likely to have low birthweight and be born into a family of limited education and economic resources, which could have a negative impact on their future success. There were 70 births per 1,000 females between 15-19 years old in Mississippi in 2000. That figure fell to 66 births in 2008, but is still significantly higher than the national average. In 2000, there were 48 births per 1,000 females between 15-19 years old on average across the country, which decreased to 41 births in 2008. But, there is good news in Oktibbeha County: the rate in 2005 was 43.3 births per 1,000 females between 15-19 years old, and it decreased to 28.8 in 2009, much lower than the national average. Despite encouraging figures locally, Mississippi ranks last in teen birth rates.
The percentage of teens who are not in school or not high school graduates dropped sharply on both the state and national level. This category is important because teens who do no finish high school have a much harder time reaching financial success as an adult. In 2000, 15 percent of teens in Mississippi did not work and did not complete high school, but by 2009, that figure fell to 7 percent. In comparison, 11 percent of teens did not work and did not complete high school nation wide in 2000, but that decreased to 6 percent by 2009. Mississippi ranks 29th in this category, while Nevada ranks last with 11 percent of teens not working and not completing high school.
Kids Count did not previously look at the percentage of teens who are neither working nor going to school, so there can be no comparison, but this category was represented by 12 percent of teens in Mississippi and 9 percent nationwide in 2009. Mississippi ranked 45th in this category. West Virginia ranked 50th with 15 percent of teens not working or attending school.
The foundation also recently began looking at the percentage of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment. Without job security within the family, a child is more likely to have poor health and educational opportunities. In 2009, 39 percent of Mississippi children were living in this type of family, compared to 31 percent on the national level. Mississippi ranked 50th in this category.
The previous category is also a good indicator for the percentage of children living in poverty, or in a family of four with an income below $21,756. Unfortunately, that number has risen significantly over the last decade. Mississippi’s average has risen from 26 percent of children living in poverty in 2000 to 31 percent in 2009, while on the national level 17 percent of children were living in poverty in 2000, and the number rose to 20 percent in 2009. In Oktibbeha County, that number rose from 28.3 percent in 2005 to 33.6 percent in 2009. Mississippi ranked 50th in the percentage of children living in poverty category.
There has also been a rise in the percentage of children living in single-parent families. In Mississippi, 43 percent of children were living in single-parent households in 2000, which rose to 48 percent in 2009. The national average saw an increase as well, rising from 31 percent in 2000 to 34 percent in 2009. From 2005-2009, 45.5 percent of children were living in a single-parent household in Oktibbeha County. Mississippi ranks 50th in this category.
While the recession can be blamed for most of the bad news across the country, like the increase in low-birthweight babies and children living in poverty, it is not the case with Mississippi’s poor ranking. Mississippi was actually least affected by the recession due to the fact it has been ranked last for a decade now. However, according to Linda Southward, coordinator of Mississippi Kids Count, state leaders are paying attention to what the data is showing.
“What we know and what the research proves is that children who grow up in poverty do not cope effectively with life’s challenges,” Southward said. “The most effective way to put children on a pathway to becoming productive, healthy citizens is to have a two-generational strategy. This strategy includes helping parents to move their family ahead economically and one for children that focuses on health development and educational success. The states that have done that effectively have higher national rankings.”
Southward attributes the few bright spots in the grim report — lower percentage of teens not in school and not high school graduates and percentage of teens not attending school and not working — to early intervention and education programs.
“We know that children who are nurtured and well cared for in their first five years of life have a better social, emotional, language and learning outcomes,” she said. “These in turn lead to more positive behavior and academic achievements.”
For more information on the 2011 Kids Count data, visit datacenter.kidscount.org/databook/2011.