Mississippi, no longer the worst state to be a kid

There’s good news for the children of Mississippi; their state is no longer the worst place to be a kid. That’s because a new set of annual rankings on children’s welfare says New Mexico has dethroned Mississippi's perennial hold on the bottom ranking of the Kids Count list.

For the past 24 years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has used a series of 16 indicators to rank the well-being of children in all 50 U.S. states. This year’s edition is the first to not place Mississippi at 50 out of 50 on the list, citing gains in health and education. However, Mississippi is still No. 49 on the list.

The foundation also noted that a third of Mississippi’s children continue to live in poverty. By comparison, 13 percent of New Hampshire’s children are listed as living at or below the poverty level.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts finished at the top of the children’s well-being list.

“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,” Mississippi Kids Count Director Linda Southward told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

There also appears to be an overall improving trend in the South. Louisiana, which was 46th on the list, is the only other Southern state to finish in the bottom five. However, the Southwest has fared less well—three of the bottom-five states are New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.

Southward said Mississippi saw its gains through improvement in the number of children enrolled in preschool and general student improvements in math for eighth-graders and reading for fourth-graders. Overall, Mississippi was 48th in the Kids Count educational rankings. However, it did not see any economic gains during the same period, continuing to rank 50th on that list.

“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.”

This year’s rankings were based on national data compiled between 2005-2011. For those years, Mississippi’s numbers improved across eight of the 16 statistical areas measured. Overall, the United States improved in 10 of the categories during the same period.

Mississippi saw other gains on the list, including a drop in teen pregnancy rates and a drop in its infant mortality rate that has shown an improvement outpacing the national average.

“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.