18 August 2009

Tennessee Ranks Near Bottom In Child Well-Being: Child Poverty Especially High In Urban Shelby County

Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation published the 10th annual KIDS COUNT Databook, showcasing the welfare of our nation’s children on a state-by-state basis and grading states on 10 measures of child welfare*. According to the report, Tennessee has lots of room for improvement when it comes to children’s issues- our state ranks 46th nationally.

According to Linda O’Neal, Executive Director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the majority of the factors examined by the Annie E. Casey Foundation are related to poverty. The percentage of Tennessee children residing in impoverished households in 2007 was 23 percent, up from 20 percent in 2000. “Tennessee and other Southern states have been plagued by a history of poverty, unemployment and low-paying jobs that worsen dropout rates, teen birth rates and other metrics the study considers” O’Neal suggested (Carey, The Tennessean, p.1).

Economic hardship is especially prevalent in our community. In Shelby County (2007), about 30 percent of children live in poverty, with half of these living in extreme poverty (approximately $10,000 in annual income for a family of four). Poverty is on the rise in the city of Memphis- from 2003 to 2007, the percentage of children in poverty rose from 35 to 42 percent (The Urban Child Institute [TUCI], 2009).

For our youngest citizens, residing in poverty is more than economic disadvantage- science suggests that poverty negatively impacts cognitive and social-emotional growth. Children raised in impoverished households lack access to critical resources needed for intellectual development, including high quality child care, medical care and reliable transportation.

How can we make sure that our infants and toddlers have a healthy start in life and guarantee that local families have access to the supports that will help them meet their young children’s basic needs?

Policy Suggestions (Zero To Three, 2009):
- Actualize family-friendly welfare-to-work programs that support the developmental requirements of very young children.
- Extend tax protocols for low-income families, including the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, visit The Urban Child Institute at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org.


The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2009). 2009 Kids Count DataBook. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Carey, C. (2009, July 29). Tennessee is 46th in caring for kids: State worsens in poverty but
improves dropout rates. http://www.tennessean.com/article/20090729/NEWS01/907290393/Tennessee+is+46th+in+caring+for+kids

DiLauro, E. (2009). Getting back to basics: Building the foundation for infants, toddlers, and their families. Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE Policy Center.

The Urban Child Institute. (2009). The State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County: DataBook. Memphis, TN: The Urban Child Institute.

*For a complete listing of variables examined by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, please visit http://www.aecf.org/.

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