ND’s Children’s Report Looks Good on the Surface, But Concerns Lurk Behind / Public News Service

FARGO, ND — North Dakota ranks first in the United States in economic stability for children, according to an annual report measuring children’s well-being.

But policy experts worry the pandemic has set some families back, while other indicators aren’t doing as well.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count data book this week, which analyzes where states stand in areas such as education, health and economic factors for families with children.

The report, which mostly includes data from 2019, noted that North Dakota has only 18,000 children living in poverty.

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

“And unfortunately, children of color are more likely to live in poverty,” Burg observed. “And so, if we instead base the rankings on the well-being of children of color, North Dakota would fall down.”

The report includes some post-COVID data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. At some point during the pandemic, 16% of North Dakota households with children were unsure whether they would be able to pay their next rent or mortgage payment.

In education, the state ranked 31st, with two-thirds of fourth-graders not reading at the grade level, like a decade ago.

And while some impact of the pandemic has become less significant in 2021, the report’s authors stressed that it will take time to experience the full weight of the crisis.

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

“We know that children who grow up in poverty have lower health outcomes,” Boissière explained. “They live in substandard housing that has issues like mold and lead that aren’t being addressed. Low-income families live in poorer neighborhoods that have schools with limited resources, so their academic performance tends to be worse.”

She noted that the expansion of the child tax credit under the U.S. bailout will boost struggling families, as it provides monthly payments starting in July.

But the expansion is only a temporary increase, and there are calls for Congress to make the expansion permanent. At the state level, the Foundation recommends that North Dakota raise its minimum wage and invest more in early childhood education.

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