2014 Kids Count Data Book: It’s time we listen

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Nearly 50 percent of all African-American children in Minnesota lived in poverty in 2012, along with 38 percent of American Indian children, 30 percent of Hispanic or Latino children and 20 percent of Asian children — this compared to 8 percent of white children. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Ryan Earp

News usually is framed in two ways: the good news and the bad news. And while good news is always great to hear, it’s important to listen to the bad, especially when it comes to how well we are serving our kids. The annual Kids Count Data Book released last month reported good and bad news for Minnesota, and it’s time we paid attention to both.

The report produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Children’s Defense Fund is highly respected for its state-by-state assessment of children’s health, education and overall well-being.

A snapshot of Minnesota kids

While on the surface many headlines from around the state highlight good news in the report – that “Minnesota is No. 5 Best State for Children” and that “Minnesota Ranks High in Kids’ Well-Being,” – their underlying messages tell us that there is much work to be done surrounding children’s general welfare as more Minnesota kids are living in poverty. Here’s a snapshot of the Minnesota rankings.

Previously ranked as high as seventh in the nation’s overall health ranking, the 2014 Kids Count Data Book finds Minnesota to have fallen to the 17th among all states. In a recent interview with the Star Tribune, Stephanie Hogenson, research and policy director at the Children’s Defense Fund – Minnesota explains, “As one of the healthiest states overall in the country, and with globally renowned health care, Minnesota should not be in the middle of the pack for child health. … We’re no longer seen as a leader in child health as we once were.”

What happened?

Policy experts point to the increase in poverty as a determining factor in the state’s declining health outcomes. According to the report, “Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development. … [It] can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn. It can contribute to behavioral, social and emotional problems and poor health.”

Minnesota’s rising rates of child poverty are exacerbating racial inequities that are among the worst in the nation, because communities of color and native communities are disproportionately impacted. Nearly 50 percent of all African-American children in Minnesota lived in poverty in 2012, along with 38 percent of American Indian children, 30 percent of Hispanic or Latino children and 20 percent of Asian children — this compared to 8 percent of white children.

The report goes on to state “the biggest challenge in an era of increasing inequality in income and wealth is the widening gulf between children growing up in strong, economically secure families within thriving communities and children who are not.”

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Minnesotans are taking note. Efforts are under way through organizations and initiatives aimed at providing our children and families with economic stability, affordable housing options, and access to high-quality child care and development opportunities.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we are committed to helping all children lead healthier lives, and are actively involved in supporting efforts to address some of the economic and social determinants that have profound impacts on child health. We are hopeful that new policies, funding and programs will help lift our children out of poverty. You can be a part of our work by joining our advocacy efforts.

See a quick snapshot of how Minnesota ranks in other areas of the report.

Ryan Earp is an intern with the Advocacy and Child Health Policy team at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

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