The book published this week contains only statewide data. A county by county break-down will be released in the fall.
The news for Alabama was not all bad, however. The infant mortality rate actually improved by four points, outpacing the national improvement of three points. The death rate for children under 14 remained unchanged from 2000, and the teen birth rate improved by 11 points.
Perhaps the most remarkable statistic in the report is the percentage of teens who are high school drop-outs, which improved by 23 points. The national rate improved by 36 points, however.
The percentage of teens who are not attending high school and not working also improved by eight points, although nationally it was 11 points.
The percentage of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year round employment and the percentage of children in poverty figures both took turns for the worse, by six percent and 14 percent, respectively. The percentage of children in single parent families was also worse, by nine percent.
Low birth weight, infant mortality, child mortality, teen death rate and teen birth rate are all based on comparisons of the years 2000 and 2006. The remaining figures compare 2000 and 2007.
The infant mortality rate represents the number of deaths per 1,000 live births. The child and teen death rates are calculated per 100,000 children between the ages of 1 and 14 and 15 to 19, respectively. The teen birth rate reflects births per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19.
Talladega County Department of Human Resources director Mary Ashcraft said she felt many of the areas where Alabama had lost ground, particularly financial areas “are directly related to the changes in the economy. Unemployment is up and income is down. We’re seeing more people than ever signing up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the successor to food stamps) than ever, and they’re people signing up for the first time. They’re middle class people, striving to keep themselves and their families fed. Plants are closing, and those jobs are not being replaced yet, so I think the state’s drop is due to children in poverty and the loss of jobs. Like I said, SNAP stays covered up all day, with a population we haven’t seen before. It’s good to have a resource like this available, so people can use their unemployment money for other things.”
Ashcraft was less concerned with the increase in single parent households. “I think that’s almost a societal change,” she said. “That can cover a lot of situations, where parents were never married or are separated or divorced. But that’s almost the norm now. What we do need to do is establish paternity in at least 85 percent of these cases (which is required for enhanced federal funding) and get the fathers to start paying child support. And in some cases, where one parent might have been abusive, the child will be better off with only one.”
As for the change in the dropout rate, Ashcraft said this “shows that education resources are doing their jobs. It says to me that there are some innovative programs out there to keep kids in school, and they’re working.”
Cherri Pilkington, director of St. Clair County DHR, said she largely agreed with Ashcraft. “A lot of this just traces back to the economy, and the impact layoffs have on families.”
As for the good news, Pilkington said, “I still think we’ve got a lot of great things coming up in the next few years, but these show that we’ve still got a long way to go.”