The Annie E. Casey Foundation has published its 2015 Kids Count Data Book. South Dakota doesn’t come out too badly, ranking 18th overall for child welfare (we’ve held steady at 17th or 18th throughout the Daugaard regime). 19% of our children are in poverty, compared to the national child-poverty rate of 22%. One major factor protecting our kids from poverty is cheap housing: only 20% of our kids live in households with a high housing cost burden, compared with 36% nationwide.
The best state in the Union for kids is Minnesota. They beat us on every index calculated in the Kids Count score. Minnesota particularly overshadows South Dakota in education, ranking sixth compared to South Dakota’s 32nd. By 2013 figures, Minnesota has a higher percentage of kids attending preschool than South Dakota, better fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math test scores, a much lower child and teen death rate (19 per 100K in Minnesota, 24 per 100K nationwide, 35 per 100K in South Dakota, a figure that actually represents improvement from South Dakota’s 46 per 100K in 2009), and a lower percentage of kids in single-parent households.
Minnesota’s top rank isn’t luck; it’s investment:
[Jeremy Hobson]: But then you see Minnesota, for instance, 14% of children there are living below poverty, which is way better than the national average of 22%. So when you see that number, what can you say about what Minnesota has figured out here?
[Patrick McCarthy, CEO, Annie E. Casey Foundation]: There’s a combination of things. We have to remember that some of the factors driving childhood poverty are actually fairly large demographic and macroeconomic trends. At the same time, we do know that states that have made decisions to invest in kids, to invest in kids, invest in early childhood and high-quality pre-school, we see the results of those policy choices. Minnesota has long been a state that has invested heavily in families, and so it’s not surprising that overall their children are doing the best in the country [emphasis mine; Patrick McCarthy, interview with Jeremy Hobson, “Many American Children Still Stuck In Pockets Of Poverty,” Here and Now, 2015.07.21].
How I wish I could hear experts say things like that about South Dakota. How I wish success in South Dakota could be as unsurprising as success in Minnesota.
If we want to surprise the experts and do better at getting kids out of poverty, we have to invest in kids and their parents:
[McCarthy] The best set of policies have to do with simultaneously investing in parents and in their kids, a two-generation strategy. For the parents, pathways to jobs, income supports where that’s necessary, flexibility in the workplace. But for the kids, really, high-quality early childhood education programs, pre-school, and really bearing down on making sure every kid is reading proficiently by the end of third grade [Hobson, 2015.07.21].
Minnesota shows us that family values means valuing families by putting our money where our mouth is.