By Clarence Hightower
The Anti-Poverty Soldier
ST. PAUL (Dec. 6, 2016) — Last month the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota (CDF-MN) released its 2016 Minnesota KIDS COUNT Data Book. Minnesota KIDS COUNT is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s national initiative, which monitors child well-being across four major categories in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For the second consecutive year, Minnesota ranks number one in overall child wellness, putting us ahead of Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Connecticut which collectively round out the top five.
Minnesota’s overall top ranking includes the number one position in the category of Health. In the categories of Economic Well-Being, Family and Community, and Education, Minnesota ranks third, fourth, and sixth respectively when compared the rest of the country. Although this is great news, the CDF-MN reminds us that rampant racial disparities among kids ages 0 to 17 continue to persist even as Minnesota otherwise leads the nation in its treatment of young people, noting that:
…when the data is examined by race and ethnicity, it is evident that children of color and American Indian children in Minnesota experience greater barriers to success. Those barriers include being more likely to live in economically insecure families and neighborhoods and less likely to attend preschool, meet reading and math standards, and graduate high school on time.
The KIDS COUNT data also demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of Minnesota’s children of color live in low-income households, which is defined as below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. This is in contrast to fewer than 25 percent of white children in the state. Furthermore, Minnesota has the second-highest rate of black children living in low-income households in the entire United States.
The CDF-MN ads that such inequity is further complicated when considering that since 2006, all of state’s population growth among children is due to the increase in the number of children of color. These disparities are particularly evident in Ramsey County, which since the mid 1980s, has increasingly become the most diverse county in the Twin Cities metro and the third most diverse county (out of 87) in the entire state.
For example the child poverty rate in Ramsey County is more than 60 percent higher than the state average. Likewise, nearly 60 percent of school-age children in Ramsey County receive free-reduced price lunch as compared to approximately 37 percent of all students statewide. Children in Ramsey County are still significantly more likely than their peers throughout Minnesota to: be without health insurance; not receive early childhood education; not graduate from high school; and be involved in the juvenile justice system and suffer from a multitude of other social problems.
Recent initiatives at both the state and local levels illustrate that the issue of racial disparities, especially among children, has garnered considerable attention. And, I think it is fair to say that the enormity of this problem will require some time, as well as unyielding effort, before it is reversed. That said, as Minnesota continues to receive such high marks for its overall quality of life and the well-being of its children, progress in reducing racial inequality seems to be nominal at best.
In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. published his fourth book which was aptly titled Why We Can’t Wait. In that spirt, while understanding that the struggle to eliminate disparity might be a long and arduous process, we cannot wait any longer and not see progress. There has to be significant advancement on this front and it has to be now. Every day that goes by where improvement is not being made could be a day where the hopes and dreams of one, two, or a dozen young people are dashed. We can no longer allow these inequities to persist. The future of our children is at stake.
Clarence Hightower is the Executive Director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104.