What are the unique challenges for families living in greater Minnesota? That’s the focus of this year’s KIDS COUNT Data Book, an annual report produced by the Children’s Defense Fund, with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. This year, the report, subtitled “Children Across Minnesota” focused on the unique challenges that face children and families outside the seven county metro area, such as accessing health care, food, and jobs.
“We’re looking at what geographic location means, especially in terms of poverty,” said Kara Arzamendia, Research Director for CDF at a presentation about the 2012 Data Book on June 7.
According to Arzamendia, the number of children in Minnesota has declined, though the population as a whole increased. In the past 10 years, we’ve lost a few thousand children. “What this says to us is we can’t afford to lose even one child to poverty,” she said. “We don’t have an abundance of children that we can play around with, really.” By 2020, there will be more retirees than school children, she said.
“While the pie itself isn’t growing, the makeup of the pie is really interesting,” Arzamendia said. Populations of Hispanic, African American and children of two or more races are seeing large increases, while the population of white children is in decline. According to the 2012 Data Book, the population of African American children increased by 50 percent from 2000 to 2010, the population of Hispanic children increased by 82 percent, and the population of children of two or more races increased by 61 percent. Asian children’s population increased by 25 percent, while white children decreased by eight percent, and American Indian children decreased by seven percent.
Immigration is part of the equation, and in small towns, diversity is growing. “There have been growing pains for communities,” she said. “It can be difficult to meet the needs of different families and perspectives,” she said. And yet the diversity “can also keep communities alive and afloat.”
The relationship of poverty to race is staggering. Almost half of African American children are living in poverty, according to Arzamendia.
For rural families, some of the issues that surround getting support for children are a lack of social networks, and stigma of asking for help. Also, things like transportation, utilities, and food can be more expensive in rural areas, said Arzamendia.
The research shows is that child poverty is not just an urban issue. A small region that includes Lake of the Woods, Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, and Mahnomen counties, has the highest level of children in poverty, at 21.1- 26 percent. There is also an even split between the metro area and outside the metro for those in poverty, Arzamendia said.
Work force participation is high in Minnesota, with 79 percent of families with at least one person in the work force. The problem is that “the work doesn’t pay enough to cover basic needs,” Arzamendia said. The average wage for job vacancies in greater Minnesota is about $10/hour, or about $20,000 per year. Many times these jobs lack critical benefits, such as with many retail and restaurant jobs. The research shows that people living rural areas are more likely to have children without health insurance.
Across Minnesota, some 75,000 children are not insured. The region including Lake of the Woods, Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, and Mahnomen counties has the highest percentage of children without insurance in 2009, at 10.1 percent, compared with 5.8 percent uninsured children in the seven-county metro area, according to census data. Families who are not insured most commonly rely on Medicaid and CHIP to access the health coverage they need, according to the Data Book. According to the U.S. Census, 83 percent of families earning $88,000 or more a year have employer-sponsored health insurance, while only 19 percent of those earning $22,000 or less had health insurance sponsored by their employer.
Besides lack of health insurance, families in Greater Minnesota also struggle with lack of access to health care providers. Arzamendia said that even for families that can afford health care, long distances can sometimes impede access to health care providers, preventing children from getting the care they need. According to the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), there are health care shortage areas in 62 counties for primary care, 67 counties for dental care, and 77 counties for mental health care.
According to the Data Book, one solution to these health care shortages would be to promote policies that attract more primary care providers to Greater Minnesota. For example, the Affordable Care Act provides scholarships and repays education loans for healthcare providers serving in shortage areas. The book highlights Project Care, a free health care clinic operating in Hibbing, Ely and Grand Rapids as a promising practice that provides health care services among people without insurance to people living in the Iron Range and surrounding communities.
The Kids Count Data Book is part of a two-tiered projected funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation tracks national data, with an organization in each state tracking more specific statewide data. In Minnesota, the Children’s Defense Fund in Minnesota creates the Minnesota level Kids Count Book, using state level sources as well as county and community level data, Crawford said. In addition to the annual Kids Count Data Book, they also produce periodic reports, and maintain information in the Kids Count Data Center.