June 28, 2018 10:43:58 AM
Mary Pollitz - [email protected]
Mississippi ranks 48th in child wellbeing, the highest ranking in nearly 30 years, according to the Mississippi KIDS COUNT study.
Mississippi KIDS COUNT is a branch of the KIDS COUNT network supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which measures child wellbeing on four major indicators, each of which have four sub-indicators which are all used to rank each state. Mississippi ranked 50th in the family and community indicator, 48th in economic wellbeing, 44th in education and 47th in health, to finish 48th in overall child wellbeing, surpassing Louisiana and New Mexico.
The foundation uses publicly available data from national and state surveys and censuses to calculate each state's ranking, with this year's data being from 2016. Comparing the results from previous years, Mississippi improved on nearly all aspects, said Heather Hanna, a representative for Mississippi KIDS COUNT. However, most states showed larger improvements across the board as well.
Hanna said the improvements in Mississippi have helped raise its national ranking from the 50th place last year.
"We saw improvements on 13 out of the 16 indicators," Hanna said. "We did see gains on every one of our indicators in economic wellbeing. But we still have the highest rate of child poverty at 30 percent. We know that children who live in families that experience poverty are more likely to experience toxic stress, and they have fewer resources available to them."
The state's child poverty level, which is 30 percent -- 11 percent higher than the national average -- affects nearly every aspect of child wellbeing that is recorded by KIDS COUNT, Hanna said.
In most aspects, Lowndes County closely resembles the state recorded data. Nearly 31 percent of children under 18 are living in poverty in Lowndes County. Lowndes also recorded just 45 percent of children living in single-family homes, matching the state average but about 10 percent higher than the national average.
Lowndes County also recorded a higher median household income than previous years at $44,142, which surpassed the state level. Lowndes County's median income in 2015 was $41,880.
Danny Avery, outgoing executive director of United Way of Lowndes County which works with nonprofits that help low-income people in the area, credited new industry for the strides Lowndes County and Mississippi have taken to increase child wellbeing and economic indicators generally.
"The fact that we are above the state average of median income, speaks to the fact that we are giving people more opportunities," Avery said. "People that used to be flipping burgers at McDonald's (now work) in advanced industry jobs."
The data is similar in Oktibbeha County, where just over 31 percent of children under 18 live in poverty.
The median income of Oktibbeha is $36,105 -- a dip of $2,000 from 2015 and $5,000 short of this year's state average of $41,793.
Both Clay and Noxubee counties improved their median household income to $34,408 and $29,330 respectively, while Monroe County decreased slightly from $38,893 in 2015 to $38,208. All three counties remained below the state average for median income.
Noxubee and Clay County recorded more than half of family homes being single-parent households, 10 percent higher than the state average and 20 percent higher than the national average. Monroe County has steadily declined to 37 percent of families being single-parent households, just 2 percent higher than the national average.
Of the three, Noxubee County hosts the largest percentage of teens under 18 living in poverty at nearly 50 percent, while Monroe County holds the lowest percentage at 27.4 percent.
In the state overall, education has advanced, with Mississippi improving from 48th place in last year's KIDS COUNT to 44th place this year. The state saw increases in fourth-grade reading proficiency, eighth-grade math proficiency and high school students gradating on time. The only area of concern for Mississippi was the increase of 3- and 4-year-olds who are not enrolled in school, Hanna said.
"We've done a great job as a state investing state dollars in early care and education," Hanna said. "But we are only doing it in certain pockets of the state. We only have 14 districts that have state-funded pre-K (programs) and those have been a huge success and it would be great to see those in all school districts throughout the state."
Although Mississippi still ranks near the bottom of the list, it is important to recognize the state's progress, Hanna said.
"I think overall it's really encouraging that we're showing improvement," Hanna said. "It's important for us to make smart investments as a state so that we'll continue to see progress as it relates to our kids."
Mississippi KIDS COUNT will release more in-depth data for each county in the state in February for the public to view online. A more detailed record of The KIDS COUNT results for local, state and national levels can be found on the KIDS COUNT website: http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/aecf-2018kidscountdatabook-2018.pdf