Minnesota No. 4 in child well-being, but among worst in racial disparities

Lucy Laney students listen to instructions from Morgan McDonald Sr.
Lucy Laney students listen to instructions from Morgan McDonald Sr. at the after-school boxing academy in Minneapolis on April 25, 2019. A yearly report finds that Minnesota has made progress in taking care of children, but the progress has been uneven.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Minnesota ranks fourth in the nation for overall child well-being, according to the 2019 Kids Count Data Book — an annual report released Monday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report found the number of children living in poverty in Minnesota has decreased by 20 percent since 2010. But Bharti Wahi, executive director of Children's Defense Fund Minnesota, said the state has some of the most pronounced disparities in outcome for children of color versus white children.

"The experience that white, middle-class children are having in Minnesota is very different than that of children of color and American Indian children," Wahi said. "And while we are excited about our overall improvement, I think there is still a lot to go, so that some of the improvements around economic well-being are felt throughout our community."

Minnesota ranks 10th in the nation for education and third in the nation for child economic well-being.

Wahi points to statewide policies — such as raising the minimum wage and programs that help people access work — for Minnesota's improved economic ranking. But she says African-American and Native American children are not benefitting from the rise in economic well-being as much as their white peers.

The Casey Foundation included policy recommendations for lawmakers with the release of the report. It advised states to expand access to Medicaid. It also touted child tax credit programs as ways for working parents to use more of their take-home pay to meet their children's needs.

One recommendation is for policymakers to address ethnic and racial inequalities. The report notes that data shows current state and local policies undermine the well-being and success of children of color.

"There's really nothing wrong with our children. It is we adults that have created these systems and structures, and it is incumbent upon us to really look at them and really think about how they get in the way of our children's brilliance," Wahi said.

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