But when it comes to quality of life issues in the state, we’ve become more complacent. Maybe because it’s harder to keep score.
For the last 24 years the Annie E. Casey foundation has offered help with that by publishing the annual Kids Count Data Book. It’s a compilation of records, facts and figures for 16 quality of life indicators for all 50 states, with the focus on issues that affect children. Voices for Alabama’s Children, a child advocacy organization, is the home of the Kids Count project in our state.
This year’s report, released this week, shows the state has improved slightly, relative to other states — from 45th place overall last year to 44th — so there has been progress. The report points out where improvements have been made and where ground has been lost. It’s up to the people of each state to take note and take action. New Hampshire earned the highest overall ranking this year.
The report focuses on four “domains” of well-being, and gives a sub-ranking for each one.
Alabama’s ranking for Health saw the biggest improvement, jumping up from Number 41 last year to 35. That takes into account improvements in the number of low birthweight babies, children without health insurance, child and teen deaths and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs. The state improved on all four counts over last year, but still had a higher than average death rate – 37 per 100,000 compared to 26 nationally. Maine was ranked the top state for health.
Economic Well-Being in Alabama ranks 40th, up two positions from last year, but still in the bottom fourth of the country. One of the factors measured is the rate of children living in poverty. In our state, that number 28 percent, compared to a national average of 23 percent. North Dakota, the top state on the list, has a 15 percent rate.
The state was unchanged on the remaining two rankings.
Education remained the same at 44th, with 69 percent of fourth-graders not proficient in reading, and a whopping 80 percent of eighth-graders not proficient in math. The national average is 66 percent. Massachusetts led the nation with 49 percent.
Family and Community issues made up the fourth domain, where the state is ranked 44th, same as last year. In two measures the state did slightly worse, with higher rates of children in single parent families and children living in high poverty areas. There are improvements in the number of household heads with high school diplomas, and the state saw a 6 percent decline in teen births to 44 per 1,000 — but that’s still 10 births per 1,000 above the national average. In New Hampshire, the top-ranked state for the category, there is a rate of 16 births per 1,000 teens.
The complete report can be downloaded, free of charge, from kidscount.org.
Our state has made creeping progress during the years the report has been issued, rising from 48th, 47th and 46th place rankings to this year’s 44th ranking. At least the movement is in the right direction, but we’re still in the bottom fourth in all four domains measured.
We commend those involved in producing the report, which is a very useful guide to understanding some of weaknesses we face as a state and a nation. We’re pleased to see the improvements that have been made. But our football teams refuse to settle for being less than the best — we hope our state’s leadership will do the same.