Why it matters that Alabama’s children of color will soon be the majority

Children of color will soon be the majority of children in Alabama, and people of color will make up the majority of the state’s workforce in a decade, according to a new report. 

These findings were outlined in the Alabama Kids Count Data Bookpublished this month, which examines child-related quality-of-life characteristics like health, education and economic security on state and county levels. Due to a lag in collection time, the data reflects child wellbeing before the COVID-19 pandemic.  

From 2000 to 2019, the percentage of white children in Alabama declined from 63% of all children to 57%; the percentage of Black children dropped from 32% to 29% in the same time period while the percentage of Hispanic children rose from 2% to 8%.  

Overall, the percentage of non-white children in Alabama rose from 37% to 42% in the past decade. 

The racial makeup of Alabama’s child population matters becausdata show that many of Alabama’s inequities among children track along racial lines, said Stephen Woerner, executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s children, the state child advocacy organization that publishes the annual Alabama Kids Count Data Book. Black and Latino children in Alabama fare worse in education, health and poverty levels, according to the data. 

“We have to invest in them,” he said. “At the policy level, at the legislative level, we’re going to have to look at the rules put into place before many of us were born that led to the results we have that are not the results we need.” 

Investment in children does bring results, he said. Alabama’s teen birth rate is nearly half what it was a decade ago, and the state’s infant mortality rate dropped from 9.5 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 7.8 in 2018. 

“A number of efforts over the last 20 years have worked to address those issues and we’re seeing the fruits of those efforts,” he said. 

He also pointed to the state’s investment in building its nationally recognized Pre-K program, which has enrolled more than 38% of Alabama 4-year-olds. 

“We have to prioritize children in the decisions we make in Alabama,” he said. “You can’t pick a topic we’re dealing with that isn’t tied back to early childhood. Workforce issues, economic development issues, prison issues – all of those are tied back to children.” 

Overall, the national Kids Count Data Book ranks Alabama 47th in the nation for child well-being, ahead of Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico. Most of the bottom-ranked states are located in the Southeast and Southwest. The top-ranked states were Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Minnesota. 

A few other significant stats from the report: 

  • Poverty: Alabama children under age 5 have the highest poverty rate of all ages, at 28%. About one-quarter of children now live in poverty, up from a rate of one in five in the year 2000. 
  • Food insecurity: Children are more likely to lack access to enough food, with 23% of Alabama children considered food insecure, compared with 17% for all ages. 

  • Education: Just under half of Alabama fourth graders and eighth graders were considered proficient in reading or math in the 2018-2019 school year.
  • School suspensions: In 2018-2019, 19% of Black students were suspended from school, a rate that’s nearly twice as high as all other races, which were 10% or less. 
  • Abuse and neglect: Alabama children who were found to have been abused or neglected increased over the past decade from a rate of 5.1 per 1,000 in 2008 to 11.1 in 2019. 
  • Child death rate: The child death rate in 2018 was slightly lower than it was a decade before, 21 per 100,000 compared with 23 per 100,000 in 2008. 

County rankings for child wellbeing

Alabama’s top 5 counties: 

  1. Shelby
  2. Limestone
  3. Lee
  4. Baldwin
  5. St. Clair

And Alabama’s bottom-ranked counties: 

  1. Sumter
  2. Wilcox
  3. Dallas
  4. Bullock
  5. Greene

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