Report ranks state number one in child well-being

A group of children at a preschool graduation at the YWCA. Credit: File photo

Minnesota ranks number one in the nation in overall child well-being despite having significant racial disparities among children, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The “Kids Count Data Book” compares states on how well children are doing on 16 indicators in four categories — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Minnesota ranked fifth on the report last year.

While the report identifies several positive trends, including improvement in reading among 4th graders and math proficiency among 8th graders, it also shows that 60,000 more Minnesota children lived in low-income families in 2013 compared to 2008.

Black and American Indian children are three times as likely as white children to live in a low-income household and Hispanic and Asian children are more than twice as likely, according to the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota.

Low-income is defined in the study as twice the poverty rate ($47,248 annually in 2013.)

Children of color make up 30 percent of children under 5 in the state.

Fourteen percent of Minnesota children were living in poverty in 2013, compared to 11 percent in 2008, according to the Kids Count report.

Nationally, 22 percent of children were living in poverty in 2013, up from 18 percent in 2008.

Stephanie Hogenson, research and policy director at Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, said recent and local state investments in policies supporting families and children have shown positive results, but much more needs to be done to address the disparities.

“However, we cannot be content with a high ranking that masks chronic inequities for children of color in our state,” she said. “We need to rethink all of our systems that serve children and families and address systematic racism and inequities to ensure all children can access opportunities that are culturally relevant and support family success at the point before they get sick, drop out of school, get into trouble or suffer family breakdown.”

The rate of children not attending preschool in Minnesota also remained the same from 2007 to 2013 — 55 percent. Research has shown that high quality early education programs have a big impact on school readiness and success.

Hogenson said investments in early education programs made during the recent legislative session don’t go far enough.

Gov. Mark Dayton pushed for a universal preschool program for the state’s 4 year olds, but the idea faced resistance from legislators. The compromise E-12 education spending bill includes an additional $48 million for early learning scholarships, an expansion of Head Start for an additional 1,200 children and $4 million for community partnerships providing wrap-around services for low-income children in North Minneapolis and St. Paul.

She said more needs to be done to improve family’s economic security and access to affordable child care and paid family leave, among other things.

Nearly a third — 29 percent — of Minnesota children lived in single-parent households in 2013, compared to 25 percent in 2008.

The Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota noted that it takes about $19 an hour for a single-parent with two children to cover basic needs. The median wage for available jobs in the state, however, is $13.29 an hour, according to the organization.

“Lawmakers made some substantial investments in children and families this legislative session that will make child care more affordable for families, increase access to early education and improve family economic well-being. But with a nearly $2 billion dollar budget surplus, they didn’t do enough to level the playing field for all children,” Hogenson said.

>>> 

By the numbers: 2015 Kids Count Profile of Minnesota 

—   Children in poverty: 14 percent (2013); 11 percent (2008)

—   Children whose parents lack secure employment: 24 percent (2013); 22 percent (2008)

—   Children not attending preschool: 55 percent (2011-13); 55 percent (2007-09)

—   Fourth graders not proficient in reading: 59 percent (2013); 63 percent (2007)

—   High school students not graduating on time: 12 percent (2011-12); 14 percent (2007-08)

—   Children without health insurance: 6 percent (2013); 6 percent (2008)