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ND Children's Report Looks Good on Surface, But Concerns Lurk Beneath

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021   

FARGO, N.D. -- North Dakota ranks first in the U.S. when it comes to economic stability for children, according to an annual report measuring child wellbeing.

But policy experts worry the pandemic has set some families back, while other indicators don't fare as well.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation issued its annual Kids Count Data Book this week, which analyzes how states stack up in areas such as education, health, and economic factors for families with children.

The report, which mostly includes 2019 data, noted North Dakota had only 18,000 kids living in poverty.

Xanna Burg, KIDS COUNT coordinator for North Dakota, said, however, racial gaps persist.

"And unfortunately, children of color are more likely to live in poverty," Burg observed. "And so, if we base the ranking instead on the wellbeing of children of color, North Dakota would fall toward the bottom."

The report does include some post-COVID data from the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. At one point during the pandemic, 16% of North Dakota households with children were unsure they could pay their next rent or mortgage payment.

As for education, the state ranked 31st, with two-thirds of fourth-graders not reading at grade level, the same as a decade ago.

And while some impact from the pandemic became less of a factor going into 2021, the report's authors pointed out it will take time to know the full weight of the crisis.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Foundation, added childhood poverty has an effect that can last for decades.

"We know that children who grow up in poverty have lower health outcomes," Boissiere explained. "They live in substandard housing that has issues like mold and lead that go untreated. Lower-income families live in poorer neighborhoods that have poorer-resourced schools, so their education outcomes tend to be worse."

She noted the expansion of the Child Tax Credit under the American Rescue Plan will boost struggling families, as it provides monthly payments starting in July.

But the expansion is only a temporary hike, and there are calls for Congress to make the expansion permanent. At the state level, the Foundation recommends North Dakota boost its minimum wage, and to make stronger investments in early childhood education.

Disclosure: Annie E. Casey Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Education, Juvenile Justice, and Welfare Reform. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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