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Kids Count Report: Minnesota again 2nd in child health, well-being

ST. PAUL Minnesota kids are No. 2 again, and that's not bad. A national report released today rates Minnesota, for the fourth year in a row, as second in the nation in child health and well-being. The study, however, found that in Minnesota, as i...

ST. PAUL

Minnesota kids are No. 2 again, and that's not bad.

A national report released today rates Minnesota, for the fourth year in a row, as second in the nation in child health and well-being.

The study, however, found that in Minnesota, as in the rest of the country, more children are poor, more are in single-parent families and more are being born with low birth weights than at the beginning of the century.

The 2011 Kids Count Data Book produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation looked at how states ranked in 10 key indicators, including percentage of babies with low birth weight; infant, child and teen death rates; teen birth rates; teen dropout rates; and percentage of kids in poverty, with unemployed parents and in single-parent homes.

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In every indicator except child poverty, Minnesota ranked within the top 10 states in the country. That gave the state an overall rank of second, behind only New Hampshire.

The overall ranking for Wisconsin kids was 12th.

No. 2 is a position we should be accustomed to. Minnesota has ranked second in the nation in the study seven times since 2000.

"Minnesota has always found itself in the top ranking of the states," said Kara Arzamendia, research director for the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota.

The study showed that since 2000, both Minnesota and the nation saw improvements in infant mortality rates and child and teen death rates. Since 2000 in Minnesota and nationwide, teenage girls are less likely to have babies and teenagers are less likely to drop out of school, according to the study.

But the study found there's been an increase in the percentage of babies with low birth weight since 2000.

And there's been what Arzamendia called a "huge jump" in child poverty in the state.

According to the report, about 172,000 kids were living in poverty (income below $21,756 for a family of two adults and two children) in Minnesota in 2009.

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That represents poverty rate of 14 percent, an increase of 56 percent

from the 9 percent child poverty rate in 2000.

While Minnesota's poverty rate stayed below the national poverty rate of 20 percent in 2009, it increased at a faster rate since 2000 than the nation as a whole. Minnesota now ranks 11th in the nation in child poverty in the new report.

"The percent of children living in poverty is the only indicator where we're not in the top 10. It crept up slowly but made a huge jump" from 2008 to 2009, Arzamendia said.

Arzamendia said child poverty is a particularly important indicator because it can affect many other aspects of child well-being. The solution, according to Arzamendia, is jobs that pay well.

"If parents aren't in jobs that pay, it still puts them in an economically fragile situation," she said.

The report also found that the percentage of children in single-parent families in Minnesota went from 21 percent in 2000 to 26 percent in 2009. The increase in children in single-parent homes in Minnesota was greater than in the nation as a whole.

Arzamendia said that because the percentage of teens giving birth has been declining, the single-parent numbers must be driven by couples divorcing or women having children outside of marriage later in life.

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Effects of the struggling economy on Minnesota children that were reflected in the report include:

- 3 percent of children in owner-occupied housing were in houses that went into foreclosure since 2007.

- 9 percent of children had at least one unemployed parent in 2010.

- 25 percent of children were living in families where neither parent had full-time, year-round employment in 2009.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Related Topics: FAMILYHEALTH
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