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ND Child Poverty Data Highlights Local Racial Disparities

New census data shows North Dakota saw the biggest drop in child poverty, but large disparities still exist, especially for Native populations. (iStockphoto)
New census data shows North Dakota saw the biggest drop in child poverty, but large disparities still exist, especially for Native populations. (iStockphoto)
September 20, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - North Dakota had the biggest drop in the country's child-poverty rate, but child well-being experts say there's more work to do, especially for Native families. The census data shows North Dakota saw a 20-percent drop in the state's child-poverty rate from 2011 to 2015.

Experts point to the state's low unemployment rate and recent oil boom as reasons behind the drop, but that number continues to be higher than before the recession in 2008. And Karen Olson, the program director with North Dakota Kids Count said the statewide numbers can mask the disproportionately high rates of unemployment and poverty among the local Native American population.

"Our youth within our tribal nations are five times more likely to be impoverished than children living elsewhere in North Dakota," she said. "So, there are some challenges, there are some struggles that we need to be focused on."

Olson suggested the state could help close the gap in those disparities by making more investments or expanding early-childhood home visiting programs, which she said can help prevent child abuse and neglect and increase educational opportunities.

Nationally, unemployment has continued to decline since the recession. But Laura Speer, the associate director of policy reform and advocacy with the Annie E. Casey Foundation expects that the child poverty rate would also improve faster, because both rates typically track close together.

"It's taken awhile for the child poverty rate to really make any headway, and in fact, we're still higher today at 21 percent than we were in 2008 when the child poverty rate was 18 percent," she said.

According to new research from North Dakota Kids Count, the state's child population is growing faster than any other state in the country. Olson said that's one more reason to expand on existing programs aimed at helping families.

"Programs like Head Start that address both the needs of the child and the parent by increasing school readiness among young children, with the assumption that a healthy home will continuously benefit children throughout their development," she added.

Brandon Campbell/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - ND