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Kids Count: Alabama 47th in nation for child well-being

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Alabama ranked 47th in the nation in overall child well-being in a recent report – that’s down from 44th two years ago and 42nd in 2018.

Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico rounded out the states finishing behind Alabama in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book released Monday.

The report did come with some positive news for Alabama. According to a press release from the advocacy group VOICES for Alabama’s Children, a partnering organization on the report, the state ranks in the top five nationally on two indicators: the percentage of students not graduating on time (8%) and the percentage of children without health insurance (3%).

However, Alabama remains behind the national average on 12 indicators. Despite improvement over the ten-year period measured in this report, the state ranked the lowest on eighth-grade math proficiency.

The data in the report comes from 2019 and is pre-COVID-19.

“The 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book reviews the last set of data points collected about Alabama’s children before the start of the COVID pandemic,” said Judd Harwood, a member of the VOICES for Alabama’s Children Board board of directors. “While we are proud to see Alabama improve in most areas measured, the low rate of improvement before the pandemic is alarming. Understanding this report will not only help state policymakers measure the impact of the pandemic on our children but also better target COVID resources to children and families likely most affected by the virus.”

The Data Book uses 16 indicators to rank the 50 states in health (Alabama ranked 47th), education (42nd), economic well-being (39th) and family and community (45th).

The information released Monday was prior to the pandemic last year and showed the state was making improvements, but not as fast as the rest of the county.

Some of the indicators from 2019 used in the rankings include:

  • Children in single-parent families: 40%
  • Children in poverty in 2019: 228,000, 21%
  • Children whose parents lack secure income: 332,000, 31%
  • Fourth-graders not proficient in reading: 72% (the national percentage was 66%)
  • Eighth-graders not proficient in math: 79% (the national percentage was 67%).

Officials warned that gains in the most recent numbers could be undermined by the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the most extraordinary crisis to hit families in decades,” Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said in the statement. “Deliberate policy decisions can help them recover, and we’re already seeing the beginnings of that. Policymakers should use this moment to repair the damage the pandemic has caused — and to address long-standing inequities it has exacerbated.”

In December, VOICES said it expected the pandemic to worsen the overall welfare of children in the state.

There is some pandemic-specific information in the report, including the Household Pulse Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau of households with children. It showed that in March of this year, 21% of respondents had “slight or no confidence in paying rent or mortgage on time,” and 25% of adults felt “down, depressed or hopeless. Thirteen percent didn’t have a computer or internet access sufficient for education and 43% had cancelled or postponed secondary education plans.

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