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Kids Count: Alabama climbs to 39th in overall child well-being

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The overall well-being of Alabama children has climbed significantly when compared to other states according to a new report released Monday. Child advocates, however, say Alabama’s improved ranking only tells half the story.

Produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the annual Kids Count Data Book, now in its 35th year, analyzes national data on children’s well-being, and ranks all 50 states using 16 metrics such as child poverty and reading proficiency. 

The latest version, which analyzes data between 2019 and 2022, saw Alabama ranked 39th in overall child well-being, a dramatic improvement over its ranking last year of 45th, and of 46th the year prior.

“We are cautiously optimistic about the gains we are seeing in Alabama’s child well-being data,” said Rhonda Mann, executive director for VOICES for Alabama’s Children, which partners with the foundation. 

“While we cannot deny that many children and families face significant challenges in our state, we know that with investments in effective programs and family supports and resources, the areas needing attention can also improve.”

The report shows that when compared to last year’s report, which analyzed data between 2018 and 2021, Alabama child well-being improved in seven categories, including low birth weights, child and teen death rates and teen births.

Children living with families without a parent that has full-time, year-round employment also improved, decreasing by six percentage points in 2022 when compared to 2019.

Children without health insurance also remained low at 3%, the third in the nation, largely due to programs like ALL Kids or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The state declined, however, in three categories; child poverty, 8th grade math proficiency and timely high school graduation rates.

Between 2019 and 2022, child poverty climbed to 22%, an increase from 2019 and ranking the state 45th for child poverty. Math proficiency for 8th graders declined by three percentage points during the same period, resulting in just 19% of 8th graders scoring at or above math proficiency levels. 

Apreill Hartsfield, policy and data analyst for VOICES, told Alabama Daily News Monday that while the new child well-being ranking was indeed a positive development, the data could be deceiving.

“It does look like we did better than I think reality says,” Hartsfield told ADN. “So there’s two different stories with this data, and one is comparing us with other states; on the good side of things, Alabama really maintained, so we didn’t decline.”

Hartsfield went on to describe how Alabama had uniquely avoided many of the academic declines experienced in other states, declines caused largely by the COVID pandemic.

“The other side of that story is other states declined more than we did, and so it makes us look like we did really good and we really improved, where we really just maintained where we were, which is good,” she continued.

“But because the other states did so much worse, our ranking improved more than we anticipated; 39th is the best that Alabama has ever been in this particular ranking.”

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