Dave Roepke, Published July 29 2009
Study: Kids fare well in North Dakota, Minnesota
Gauging by 10 measures of child well-being covering health, income, education and other factors, North Dakota is the seventh-best state for children and Minnesota ranks second behind only New Hampshire.
“It’s a good place for children to live,” said Tara Arzamendia, research director for Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota.
The overall rankings for both states are identical to those garnered in the 2008 Kids Count Data Book, a study released annually.
Minnesota and North Dakota historically rank well, part of a cluster of strong Midwestern states. The pair tied for the lowest percentage of teens not in school or working. North Dakota had the lowest rate of high school dropouts, with Minnesota in second.
Yet looking past the overall figures reveals a picture that’s more mixed. North Dakota has a higher teen death rate than all but nine other states, an increase of two-thirds since 2000. The state’s child death rate is also relatively high, lower than only 11 other states.
Polly Fassinger, program director of North Dakota Kids Count, said more than 40 percent of the teen deaths are in accidents, which she attributes to high rates of drunken driving. The poverty rate for American Indian children is five times worse than for whites, she said.
A report by the state’s Kids Count program found that from 2000 through the 2008 version of the study, only three states saw less improvement in the indicators than North Dakota. It’s a trend that doesn’t change in the new report, Fassinger said.
“Even though we look good, we’re not improving, and other states are,” she said.
Though Minnesota fared no worse than ninth in any of the Kids Count categories, the new numbers held some troubling signs, Arzamendia said.
From 2000 to 2007, the portion of kids in the state who live in poverty rose from 9 percent to 12 percent. That amounts to 40,000 children, she said.
Arzamendia said Minnesota needs to compare itself to its prior peaks, not performances of other states.
“We certainly don’t want to get lazy or sit on our laurels,” she said.
The authors of the Kids Count study, which is sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said on a national level, the new data was mixed. Six factors showed improvement, and four got worse. Ten years ago, the progress was clear, said Laura Beavers, national project coordinator.
“It’s not on par with what we saw at the end of the 1990s,” she said.
The study uses information from 2006 for health figures. The socioeconomic and education data dates to 2007. So the recession and unemployment of 2008 does not show up in the study.
That makes harsh dips in industrial states where the recession struck first disturbing, Beavers said. In Michigan, the percentage of children who live in poverty jumped 36 percent from 2000 to 2007.
“They’re like a canary in the coal mine,” she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535