Sometimes I wish we could at least come in at a nice solid 18th. I’d settle for 26th at this point. But nope, our “sweet home” Alabama consistently ranks in the top 5 or 10 on those lists ranking the worst states to live, eat, exercise or even just breathe, and conversely in the bottom on the best places to do the same. It is almost comical at this point. Thank God for Mississippi, who we can usually count on to trade 49th and 50th with us.
The latest two rankings I happened upon just this week named Alabama the Beautiful in the bottom of the pack of the “Best Places to Raise Children” and at the very top of the list of Americans with the most delinquent debt. (We’re number one! We’re number one!) Geez, they’ll rank anything!
But in fairness, I will have to point out, Mississippi, you actually came in more in the middle of the pack in the debt one, so good for you. We miss you up here at the top, though.
While I guess I can’t really argue against the Urban Institute’s study on debt. Numbers are numbers, so we’ll take that one and congratulate all of the local attorneys who specialize in debt collection and recovery.
But the other one, well, I take exception to it.
According to the recently released Kids Count data book produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Massachusetts (#1) and other Northeastern states rank at the top of states to raise kids, while Mississippi (#50) and other Southern and Southwestern states ranked at the bottom. In fact, you could pretty much draw a line through the middle of the country and every state to the south of that line ranked in the bottom 12, obviously including Alabama (#44). At least we’re not 49!
The study ranked the states based on four factors: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
We have long been told our kids are poorer, fatter, our education systems inferior and standardized test scores lower. No surprise there. They calculated the “family and community” factor by the number of single parents raising their children on their own. So yeah, we don’t do great there either.
Really, the last three are all byproducts of the first. Southern states have a lot of poor kids. Who yes, are typically more likely to be raised by a single parent or other family member, who may be more likely to feed them less healthy food and may not live in the ideal situation to perform their best in a school that could be considered less than stellar.
According to the study, African American, Hispanic and American Indian children were more likely to live in poverty, have a parent who is unemployed, have higher mortality rates and live in single-family households, among other indicators considered in the research. While the study is simply reporting state and federal data on poverty, health and education, a cynic could say it would seem to suggest the whiter and richer a state is, the better off your child would be to grow up there.
Despite all of our problems, I can’t imagine raising my children anywhere else but the South. Yes, we need to work on all of those factors consistently keeping our kids at the bottom of these lists. No child should have to live in abject conditions. But I would never want to live or have my children live in some ultra homogenous area of the country where everyone looked exactly the same, made the same exorbitant amount of money, drove the same flashy cars, etc.
Our diversity is what gives us soul. And that’s what we have in the South.
I grew up the child of a single mother in one of the poorer counties in this “poor” state, and while we weren’t in poverty, we certainly weren’t rich. We ate Hamburger Helper and drove let’s just say, very basic cars.
But I would describe my childhood as magical. We traipsed around the piney woods, looked for arrowheads in creeks and jumped along the banks of the Tombigbee – none of which costs a thing by the way. And occasionally, we would head a couple of hours south to the beach, even if it was just for the day in said basic car with a picnic basket in hand. And then back home, through Mobile, along the oak-and-azalea-lined streets.
I want my kids to be able to experience this same “magical” landscape that exists around us. None of these studies ever take it into account.
But more importantly, being around people of all different races and classes and religions is what makes us appreciate each other and our different struggles. I remember spending time with friends who had single parents living in single-wides planning their fourth weddings, as well as kids who lived with both parents and who were considered “well off.” Each had their own set of problems, as everyone does, but it’s important to understand what folks of all kinds are going through.
This is why all of the best artists, writers, poets and musicians are from the South, at least in my humble opinion. You have to be from a place where you have literally seen it all. And boy, do we see it all around here.
And yes, maybe the people are a little bit crazy too, but crazy in a good way. Usually. You know what I mean.
There is just something special and yes magical about living in the South that transcends all of the lines these reports try to bury us under.
We may rank poorly on one “study” after another, and yes we have work to do on these very serious problems, but for those of us who love this place, we know there are so many more “factors” that will forever make it number one in our hearts.