Kids Count takes closer look at Mississippi

By Michaela Gibson Morris
Daily Journal

Fewer Northeast Mississippi children live in poverty compared to other areas of the state.

But none of the 16 counties beat the national average on poverty, and county-by-county statistics for infant mortality and teen pregnancy show both bright and weak spots in the region, according to statistics compiled on child health and well-being released by Mississippi Kids Count.

Mississippi Kids Count gathered children’s advocates from around the state for a summit on Friday to present its findings and policy considerations.

“Everyone left there with lots of positive enthusiasm,” said Jamie Seale, a Belden children’s health advocate, and the focus was as much on solutions as it was a frank discussion of the problems.

Mississippi Kids Count, which is part of the national Kids Count effort spearheaded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, released its first data book on Friday. It looked at statewide statistics and recommendations on child safety, well-being, health and educational success. It was compiled by the Mississippi State Social Science Research Center, which heads the Mississippi Kids Count effort.
County-by-county data was available for children living in poverty, low birthweights, infant mortality, teen pregnancy.

Regional look
On the Mississippi Kids Count map of children living in poverty, NeMiss is better off than much of the rest of the state.

Eight counties have child poverty rates that are half those for most Delta counties. The 16-county area ranges from 19.1 percent in Union County to 33.4 percent in Clay County.

However, nationally, an average of 17 percent of children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level.

Those economic conditions were not reflected in better infant mortality rates between 2001-2005.
Considering both rates for whites and non-whites, newborns and older infants, 10 out of 16 Northeast Mississippi counties fall into the category for the highest rate of deaths.

As a state, Mississippi’s infant mortality is the worst in the country right now. In 2005, the state’s rate worsened, climbing to 11.4 deaths in the first year of life per 1,000 births. In 2006, the state’s rate 10.5.

Many of the Mississippi Kids County policy considerations include greater focus on in-depth investigation of the causes of the increased infant mortality. They also call for more support for new moms of low birthweight babies – who are typically born prematurely and are greater risk for life-threatening problems.

For teen pregnancy rates between 2001 and 2005, Lafayette, Oktibbeha and Itawamba were three of the five counties with the lowest rates in the state. Chickasaw County was one of the highest five.

Contact Daily Journal reporter Michaela Gibson Morris at 678-1599 or michaela.morris@djournal.com.