By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
Twenty-six percent of Alabama children, 282,396 of them, live in poverty and about half of those live in extreme poverty in households where a family of four earns less than $13,000 a year, according to a report out today.
And with the 2020 Census approaching, Alabama advocates and officials are hoping the state’s kids aren’t counted out for federal programs.
The Kids Count Data Book, which measures 70 indicators of childhood wellbeing, is distributed annually by VOICES for Alabama Children, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that advocates for children’s issues.
Angela Thomas, communications manager for VOICES, said she hopes people will not only read the data, but use it to “figure out what we can do for children in our communities.”
The percentage of children in poverty — 26% — is the same as it was in 2014, according to previous Kids Count Data.
Many of these young children are helpless, Thomas said, but their futures are critical to the future of the state.
The report has good news: the infant mortality rate is at an all-time low and births to teens ages 15-17 have decreased by more than 60 percent since 2017.
It also highlights areas where improvements are needed. Infant mortality rate for black babies is twice that of other races.
“Alabamians of color are still over represented in measures of disadvantage,” Thomas said.
Kids Count Rankings for Overall Well Being
This year’s report says the child population in Alabama is declining, but becoming more diverse. Children under the age of 20 make up 24.9 percent of the overall population, down from 28.2 percent in 2000.
VOICES and state officials this year are stressing the importance of the 2020 U.S. Census.
“If someone has a child who is 7, this Census is going to impact their education funding basically their entire educational career,” Thomas said.
Children under the age of 5 represent a large part of the population undercounted in Alabama’s 2010 census, according to VOICES. An undercount affects the amount of federal assistance the state receives to provide funding for programs that some children and families depend on.
Gina Maiola, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kay Ivey, said the governor is stressing the importance of the 2020 Census to multiple groups around the state.
“While the state’s ‘Alabama Counts’ effort is focused on ensuring that all Alabamians understand the importance of participating in the 2020 Census, she is highly aware that children, especially those 0-5, are among the biggest undercounted groups in the census,” Maiola said. “Because our success will truly be a team effort, she is recruiting all of the players and engaging all of the state agencies and as many people as possible to ensure Alabama achieves maximum participation in the 2020 Census.”
One of the newer additions to the report is data on homeless children. Students are considered homeless if they lack a fixed, regular and adequate residence. It includes students living in shelters, motels, cars and those who are “doubled up” living with friends or relatives, according to VOICES. Statewide, 2.2% of students are considered homeless. In Lawrence and Colbert counties, the rate was slightly above 4%.
“The U.S. Census is the primary tool our government uses to determine how federal funding and services are distributed across the country,” Rhonda Mann, deputy director of VOICES, said in a written statement. “An accurate count means more than knowing how many individuals live here. It tells us what percentage of our population is young and old, as well as who needs assistance. Once the count is finalized, we will not have an opportunity to correct it for another ten years. If Alabama gets its census count wrong, the state will have to come up with the additional funding it needs to address gaps in child well-being or fewer children will be served, which means child well-being could potentially decline.”