Alabama ranks 45th in child well-being, with lingering challenges and mixed progress
A woman working as a child care employee
Alabama ranked 45th among U.S. states in child wellbeing, according to the latest KIDS Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The report found Alabama improving in certain educational rankings but stagnating or declining in other key areas. Alabama moved up from 46th last year, but only because other states fared worse than Alabama.
“The rankings don’t have anything to do really with how well you are doing,” said Rhonda Mann, executive director of VOICES for Alabama Children, a grantee of the foundation. “They have more to do with how you compare with other states. So, you could get worse and still improve a ranking if other states also got worse at a faster pace.”
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Mann expressed that the state is “at best struggling to hold the line,” with 11 out of the 16 indicators showing no improvement or a decline in child well-being.
The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book, which assesses child well-being across 16 indicators within economic, education, health, and family and community domains, placed Alabama ahead of Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Mexico.
The report found Alabama making modest progress on education, but with a significant caveat. The state climbed six spots to 41st for fourth grade reading outcomes and 43rd for eighth grade math. However, the report cautions this apparent progress may reflect a slower rate of decline rather than substantial gains, with 72% of fourth graders and 81% of eighth graders testing below proficiency levels.
The state also ranked third for the lowest rate of high school students not graduating on time (9%) and 15th for the lowest percentage of uninsured children (5%).
But Alabama is also among the bottom five states for three indicators, including the rate of low birth-weight babies, child and teen deaths, and teen births.
“We did see improvements during this time-period of the number of families where the household had improved their educational outcome,” Mann said. “That percentage of household heads lacking a high school diploma decreased by one percentage point – it went from 11% to 10%. We know that if we can impact the educational outcome of a parent, it can have a direct impact on the educational outcome of their children.”
But Mann highlighted the state’s resilience amid pandemic-induced disruptions and urged continued efforts to improve child well-being.
“Other states might have gotten a lot worse during the pandemic and are not sliding as far back as some other states,” she said. “In my opinion it is still a win, that we were able to maintain or not lose too much ground.”
Mann said that kids were greatly impacted during the pandemic from being isolated from their friends or having interaction with their teachers, and that many children did not fare well, especially in terms of mental health.
“We’re dealing and don’t fully know what the impact of COVID was on our kids, so this is just some of the first look at how our kids are faring after going through such a difficult time,” Mann said.
The report also emphasizes the urgent need to address childcare issues, both in Alabama and nationwide. According to the Casey Foundation, the US economy loses $122 billion annually due to difficulties parents face in securing affordable, convenient childcare, leading many to miss work or quit their jobs.
In Alabama, 10% of families with children under age 6 reported quitting, changing, or refusing a job due to child care problems during 2020-21. Additionally, the high cost of childcare places a heavy burden on families, with the average cost amounting to 8% of a married couple’s median income and 30% of a single mother’s income. Despite these costs, child care workers are among the lowest-paid professionals, earning less than retail and customer service workers.
This report calls for new ideas and renewed investment in child care at local, state, and national levels to reverse these trends and improve overall child well-being.
Parents and childcare workers tell Mann that sometimes their teachers are sick, she said, and they have to close that child care room at the center, where their child might go. Some providers have had to shorten their hours as they don’t have enough teachers to fill in when someone is not there.
If a daycare center operates 8 to 5, Mann said, it makes it difficult for a parent who works those hours to drop off and pick up their children.
“You can’t drop your child off before eight, then you have to renegotiate something with your employer or work out some other work schedule, so it’s making it very difficult for everyone,” she said.
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.