State’s poverty rate on the rise

Published 2:54 pm Friday, July 24, 2015

A recent report published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that tracks the well being of children ranks Alabama near the bottom of the nation.

The 2015 Kids Count data book ranks Alabama 45th in the nation, ahead of only Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi.

Alabama ranked 44th in 2014.

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The annual report examines the well being of children across the country. This year’s book focuses on children’s economic well being, education, health and family and community.

According to the report, released earlier this week, approximately 298,000 Alabama children, or 27 percent of the children across the state, are living in poverty. That’s a 5 percent increase since 2008.

Nationally, 22 percent of children live in poverty.

From 2008-2012, the most recent data available, 36 percent of Butler County children lived below the poverty line.

Rhonda Mann, director of policy and research for VOICES for Alabama’s Children, said Alabama has made strides in improving health and education, but that areas tied directly to the economy continue to struggle.

“What would it look like if our state took the same interest, focus and determination to turn things around for children in poverty?” Mann said. “We may not recognize our state in a few years if that were to happen.”

Poverty is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services guidelines, which sets the poverty level for a family of four at $23,850 in 2014.

Mann said that two out of three children living in Alabama live in areas where the poverty rate is 30 percent or higher.

Melanie R. Bridgeforth, VOICES for Alabama’s Children’s executive director, said living in poverty can prevent children from reaching their full potential.

“Children cannot alter their family’s economic circumstances which is why it is imperative for our state leaders to make meaningful investments and do no harm to programs and services that provide opportunities for working poor families,” she said.

There were bright spots in the report.

The percentage of low-birth weight babies in the state dropped slightly from 10.6 percent to 10 percent. In Butler County the percentage of low-birth weight babies was 14.7 percent.

The percentage of teenagers not in school and not working remained at 10 percent. The percentage of teenagers not in school and not working in Butler County was 8.9 percent.

In 2013, there were 33 child and teen deaths per 100,000 people compared to 40 in 2008. Butler County had three.