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Report: Miss. kids worst off among states

A report by a children’s advocacy group released today showsMississippi slipped in half of the 10 indicators used by the studyto determine the well-being of children.

The 16th annual Kids Count Data Book, released today by theAnnie E. Casey Foundation, shows a half million more childrenliving in poverty in 2003 than 2000, for a total of nearly 13million. The study also concludes that five out of 10 indicatorsslipped nationally since 2000.

In addition to child poverty, there was an increase in thepercentage of low-birth weight babies between 2000 and 2002; anincrease in infant mortality for the first time in 40 years; and aslight rise in the teen death rate between 2000 and 2002.

The 2005 national findings are in stark contrast with data fromlast year’s study that showed eight of 10 key indicators improvedfrom 1996-2001.

“I think we were surprised by the national picture,” said LauraBeavers, co-author of the study. “There had been steady improvementin the ’90s, but with this report there’s been a change in theearly part of this decade. It’s a mixed bag.”

The study does find some improvement in the high school dropoutrate; the teen birth rate continued to decline in 2003; and thepercent of children in single-parent households leveled off.

Mississippi failed to climb above its ranking as the worst inthe nation overall despite gains in the infant mortality rate, teendeath rate, teen birth rate and the high school dropout rate.

Increases in the number of low-birth weight babies born, thenumber of teens not working or attending school, the percentage ofchildren living in homes where no parent has full-time, year-roundemployment, the percent of children in poverty and the percent ofchildren in single-parent households worked to offset the gains inother areas.

Lincoln County remained at the same level as last year’s studyin four of the ten indicator areas – the percentage of low-birthweight babies, infant mortality rate, children born into povertyand the number of single-parent households.

The county showed the greatest improvement in the teen deathrates. There were three teen deaths in Lincoln County caused byaccident, homicide or suicide during the study period, to give thecounty a ranking of 55 among the state’s 82 counties. That rankingis up from 60 last year. However, a single death in that indicatorcan cause a major increase or drop in the standings, Beaverssaid.

The same can be said when comparing the child death rate andteen birth rates, Beavers said. In those areas, Lincoln Countyshowed a slip. The county slipped from a ninth place ranking to45th in the child deaths (six in the study period) and from 18th to19th in the number of teen births.

Neither statistic is overly alarming, Beavers said, because ofthe large fluctuation that can occur with only a minute change inthe statistics.

The most troubling statistic nationwide, according to the study,is that nearly four million children with parents who had no jobsin the previous year – an increase of one million since thebeginning of the decade.

To get more parents working, the foundation recommended thatstates add counseling for depression, substance abuse, domesticviolence and other social issues to their job trainingprograms.

A recent economic slump that lasted for several years probablyplayed a role in the decreasing numbers, Beavers said.

“Economics obviously played a huge part in it” but it doesn’texplain slips in all of the indicator areas, she said.

The economic upswing in the past year may help raise some ofthose numbers.

“I think we hope that will happen. It’s not clear,” Beaverssaid.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitableorganization whose mission is to foster public policies,human-service reforms and community supports to more effectivelymeet the needs of vulnerable children and families.