BISMARCK, N.D.— Children in four Great Plains states are more likely to have parents with jobs, better household finances and manageable living costs, a new report says.
The annual Kids Count study, done by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and published Wednesday, ranks North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota as the top four states when measuring the economic well-being of children.
Overall, the four states ranked in the top 20 in the survey, which also compiles measurements reflecting child education, health, and family circumstances such as teenage birth rates and the percentage of children who live in single-parent families. The study measured 16 different factors.
Child advocates in the four states were surprised by some of the results.
Nebraska’s ranking on economic health “definitely was a bit of a shock, just knowing how devastating the effects of the recession have been here,” said Jill Westfall, a spokeswoman for Voices for Children in Nebraska. “We still have nearly one in five kids growing up in poverty.”
In Iowa, “our poverty rate is creeping upwards,” said Michael Crawford, director of Iowa Kids Count. “Unfortunately, we’re going in the wrong direction ... but our numbers are still lower than the national average.”
How does Wyoming rank?
Wyoming ranked 19th out of the 50 states overall, an improvement from 28th a year ago. It was rated fifth in economic well being, sixth in family and community, 29th in education and 47th in health.
The state rated high in economic well being although the state showed a trend of 27 percent in children in poverty from 2005 to 2010; a 25 percent increase of children living in households with a high housing cost burden and 29 percent increase of teens not in school and not working.
In education, the state also showed an increase of 2 percent in children not attending preschool and 4 percent in high school students not graduating on time. It also showed that there was an improvement statewide in eighth-graders not proficient in math.
In health, the state showed a 4 percent increase in the number of child and teen deaths per 100,000. But the state also improved in the numbers of children without health insurance and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.
The only increase Wyoming experienced in the family and community area was a 5 percent increase in teen births per 1,000.
The study’s findings
In measuring economic health, the study reviewed information about the percentage of children in each state whose families were below the poverty line of about $22,000 in annual income in 2010, the number of unemployed parents and teens who were not in school, and the percentage of children whose families pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
For the four states, the findings bucked a national trend. The foundation said its report showed a continued decline in the economic well-being of children since 2005, while documenting improvements in children’s health and school results.
Officials in the four states said they did not suffer the worst effects of the national recession, helped by robust prices for farm crops and livestock and, in North Dakota’s case, a boom in oil production.
Those states have had relatively stable housing markets and have avoided the collapse in home values suffered in some states during the Great Recession, said Steve Cochrane, managing director of Moody’s Analytics, a national economic forecasting firm.
The upper Midwest “had very little of the housing cycle like much of the rest of the country, where you had a boom and a bust,” Cochrane said. “And commodity prices have been very, very strong ... particularly for grain crops.”
The study’s results are reflected in the June jobless rates of the four states. North Dakota had the nation’s lowest June unemployment rate at 2.9 percent, followed by Nebraska (3.8 percent) and South Dakota (4.3 percent), according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Iowa was seventh, at 5.2 percent. The national June jobless rate was 8.2 percent.
North Dakota’s economic growth has been boosted by an energy boom. The state’s number of oil wells has doubled and its production has increased fivefold since 2007. At almost 640,000 barrels a day, North Dakota now ranks only behind Texas as the nation’s second-leading producer.
“What you’re seeing is ... we have a very robust economy, and therefore the children in North Dakota are in a much different situation than most of the kids in the rest of the United States,” said Richard Rathge, a North Dakota State University researcher.
Carole Cochran, director of South Dakota Kids Count, said she was pleased by the study’s findings on economic well-being, but said there “certainly are areas for improvement,” particularly in teenage death rates from vehicle crashes.
“I think (the study) really gives us areas that we can hone in on ... and really have some things that we can try to impact,” Cochran said.