Annual Kids Count report bumps state to 49

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Gains in health and education have nudged Mississippi children off the bottom of the Kids Count list.
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, Mississippi ranked 49th, not 50th overall. New Mexico took over the bottom spot.
It’s an important, although incremental, achievement for the state where nearly a third of children live in poverty.
“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,” said Mississippi Kids Count Director Linda Southward, who serves on the faculty at Mississippi State University Social Science Research Center.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation gathers statistics from across the nation on economic well-being, health, education and family and community to inform the local, state and national solutions for strengthening families and communities. For most of the statistical measures, the 2013 data book compares 2005 to 2011, the most recent year a complete, national data set is available.
“The evidence is clear – we help children by helping families,” Southward said. “The importance of quality child care, fully funding education opportunities for children and promoting evidence-based practices, underscored by economic development, is crucial to continued outcomes.”
Mississippi’s metrics improved in half of the 16 measures. The nation, like Mississippi, continued to lag pre-recession economic markers, but as a whole, the United States improved in 10 of 16 measures.
This year, it’s the Southwest with three states in the bottom five – New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. Louisiana, ranked 46th, is the only other Southeastern state in the group. New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts ranked the highest for overall well-being.
Mississippi saw gains in education between 2005 and 2011 with more children in preschool programs and better performance in fourth grade reading and eighth grade math, but still trailed the national averages. The high school on-time graduation rate didn’t change between 2005-06 and 2009-10.
“We are still woefully behind the country in reading proficiencies and the high percentage of high school students not graduating on time, continues to be of concern,” Southward said.
One of the brightest spots for Mississippi was a tremendous drop in the death rate for children and teens, which went from 52 per 100,000 in 2005 to 38 per 100,000 in 2010. The national death rate also improved, but not at the same pace.
michaela.morris@journalinc.com