The number of Minnesota children living in poverty has jumped to 14 percent, according to the latest “Kids Count” report – the highest level since 1993 – and the disparities for children of color are widening. While Minnesota had the fifth-lowest poverty rate for white children in the nation, its child-poverty rate for Asian children was the highest in the nation, and its rate for African-Americans was fifth-highest.
Kara Arzamendia, research director with the Children’s Defense Fund – Minnesota, says that despite the high rate of working families, incomes have not kept pace with the cost of living – and the number of families living in extreme poverty has more than doubled in the last decade.
“How we define that is it’s about $11,000 for a family of four, so these are families that do not make much money at all. And that number has jumped from 38,000 in the year 2000, to 78,000 in 2009. We’ve seen a huge increase in those children that are living in families that have very low incomes.”
The report also points to three policies that would help move Minnesota families out of poverty, which include increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation, increasing Earned Income and Child Care tax credits, and fully funding child care assistance.
Currently, 14 states and the District of Columbia go above and beyond the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, she says.
“Ten of those states actually index their minimum wages to inflation, so that once families get that boost of an increase in minimum wage, then over time they’re not losing purchasing power or losing the ability to make ends meet.”
On the child care front, the waiting list for assistance in paying for care is thousands long. The report finds that center-based child care costs in Minnesota are the third-highest in the country, behind only Massachusetts and New York, with infant care costing nearly $14,000 per year. Arzamendia says that is out of reach for most low-income families.
“Even in a minimum wage job, you are not going to be able to afford child care, or you’re going to just work to pay for child care, and not have any money left over for rent, or transportation, or food, or other necessities that a family would need. So it really creates a disincentive for families to work.”
The stability and predictability of a family’s income is a critical indicator of child well-being, Arzamendia notes. She adds that brain research has shown exposure to extreme stress in early childhood can actually permanently damage a child’s development.
“Children only have one childhood. When they don’t get what they need during those important developmental milestones, their opportunities can really pass them by, and it can really affect them later on in life in their achievement and how well they succeed.”
The full report and county-by-county data are available at www.cdf-mn.org.