Monday, February 2, 2009

The State of Mississippi’s Children

By Rhea Bishop

Mississippi is once again failing its children.

The Children’s Defense Fund’s recently released State of America’s Children 2008 report highlights how far we have to go in Mississippi to protect our children. Even in the midst of the current economic downturn, Mississippi must continue to invest in our children if we are ever to move up from the bottom of the nation’s economic ladder.

Here’s what we learned in the report:

Once again, Mississippi has the highest percentage of children living in poverty at almost 3 in 10 (the national rate is 1 in 6). The vast majority of Mississippi families living in poverty are working families. The federal poverty line for a family of four in 2008 was $21,200.

Race still affects poverty. Although children of all races live in poverty, a black child in Mississippi is more than twice as likely to be poor as a black child in New Jersey.

About 1 in 9 or nearly 9 million children are uninsured nationwide; 121,000 or almost 15 percent of Mississippi children are uninsured. Among uninsured children nationwide, 9 out of 10 have at least one parent working. Six out of 10 live in two parent families.

Nationwide, about 28.3 million children are enrolled in Medicaid and 7.1 million are enrolled in CHIP. In Mississippi, 422,183 children are enrolled in Medicaid. Although 54 percent of the Medicaid recipients in Mississippi are children, less than one-fourth of Medicaid payments are for health care for children. While it costs Mississippi Medicaid $5,506 per average recipient, it costs Medicaid only $1,496 to provide medical coverage for a child.

Mississippi has the highest rate of infant mortality in the country. Of all babies born in Mississippi in 2007, 477 or 10.3 per thousand newborns died. Mississippi also has one of highest rates of low-birth weight babies in the nation. More than 10 percent of Mississippi babies are born with a low birth weight – putting them at risk for neonatal health problems and death.

Maternal deaths resulting from complications of pregnancy and childbirth are also among the highest in the nation. Mississippi’s has an overall maternal death rate of 21.5 per 100,000 live births. The maternal death rate for black mothers is almost three times the rate for white mothers.

Mississippi is one of the top three states for births to teenage mothers. The teenage pregnancy rate has increased in 2006 and 2007 to 41 births per thousand teens age 10-19 in 2006 and 43 births per thousand in 2007. From 2001 to 2005, the teen pregnancy rate in Mississippi was under 40 per thousand. Nonwhite teens in 2007 were more likely to get pregnant at a rate of 53.8, compared to 32.9 per thousand white teens.

Only about 3 percent of eligible babies and young children are enrolled in Early Head Start programs; 26,657 children are enrolled in Head Start in Mississippi. Over two-thirds of mothers of young children in Mississippi work. The Urban Institute has calculated that 2.7 million people nationwide would be lifted out of poverty if child care assistance were provided to all families with young children whose incomes are below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Line.

Finally, the number of children receiving food stamps nationwide has been increasing yearly since 2000. In Mississippi, 207,351 families with children receive food stamps. About 75 percent of the children in public school in Mississippi receive free or reduced-price lunch.

We can and must do better for our children. State leaders have pledged to fully fund K-12 public schools and Medicaid; we must hold them to that promise. We all know that this will be a tight budget year at the Capitol. But, the budget should not be balanced on the backs of poor children.
Bishop is deputy director of the Children’s Defense Fund.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Mississippi Forum 2/09



These are alarming statistics, but real ones. Hopefully the new Stimulus Package will help fill in the gap where the State falls short.