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When it comes to education, health, and economic opportunity, both white and black children in Mississippi are worse off than their peers in nearly every other state, a report and rankings released Tuesday found.

White children in Mississippi ranked below all states except for West Virginia, while black children in the Magnolia state ranked below their peers in all states except for Wisconsin.

Nationwide, black children are the least likely to be on track to meet the indicators, which include some of the “key milestones on the path to opportunity,” according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the non-profit that compiled data on 12 indicators, including birth weight, teen pregnancy, and parental degree completion.

Poverty in Mississippi
Jadiel Engstrom, with father Neil, pretends to have a phone conversation with his mother, Carmen DeLeon. (Photo: Kim Palmer)

The data is used to determine how children fare across racial and ethnic groups in each state. Based on the data collected from all indicators, each racial group received a composite score on a 1000-point scale. In Mississippi, black, white, Asian, and Latino children each have a composite “well-being” score well below the national average.

The report pointed to systemic racism as a key reason for the poor performance of black children, especially in the south.

“Conditions in the American South have always been especially difficult for African Americans,” the authors wrote. “While great strides have been made it will require public will and greater investments to overcome the vestiges of a system of institutional discriminations that still plague the regions.”

In Mississippi, the data show that no racial group is exempt from the poverty and poor academic achievement that plagues the largely poor and rural state. Mississippi has the highest child poverty rate in the nation, and one of the lowest high-school graduation rates. For years, the state has posted some of the lowest scores in the country on national standardized exams.


This story is part of our ongoing in-depth coverage of the state of education in Mississippi. Dig into the entire series of stories or choose from some highlights below.

In 2013, Mississippi became the last in the south to fund pre-k, which research says can boost a child’s readiness for school and help make up for the thousands of hours of learning time that low-income children lose out on compared to their high-income peers. This year, the program will reach only about 6 percent of children in the state.

Experts in Mississippi say this could be one of the best ways to improve academic achievement and social mobility.

“Promoting opportunities for all of Mississippi’s children to succeed is of upmost importance,” said Linda Southward, Director of Mississippi KIDS COUNT, a project of the Family and Children Research Unit at Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center. “Promoting quality early care and education programs; conducting developmental and health assessments prior to entering Pre-K and increasing funding for all children to attend Pre-K are smart investments for long-term returns.”

Although both black and white children in Mississippi fare poorly compared to the rest of the country, black children have considerably less opportunity than their white peers in the Magnolia state. More than 50 percent of black children live in poverty, compared to about 19 percent of white children. Black children are also more likely to live in a home where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.

Children who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander are the most likely to meet these milestones, as evidenced by high eighth grade math proficiency rates, low teen pregnancy rates, and high-school graduation rates well above the national average.

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