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North Dakota child poverty rates see third-highest increase

GRAND FORKS - Lindy Sund said the numbers of children in need are growing here.

GRAND FORKS – Lindy Sund said the numbers of children in need are growing here.

A longtime social worker for the Salvation Army, she is collecting winter coats for the organization's annual Coats for Kids drive before Friday's distribution. Each year, she's observed more families request coats and other items, she said.

From 2013-14, there was an 11 percent increase in all services offered through the organization.

Despite the fact that many parents are employed, they can't always cover rent and other ongoing costs, she said.

"It's just tough all the way around," she said.

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The growing numbers in Grand Forks reflect a statewide trend, according to a national census survey released in September. North Dakota reported the third-highest increase nationwide in child poverty rates from 2013-14, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a children's welfare foundation that reported on the survey.

Grand Forks in particular has one of the highest poverty rates among large cities in North Dakota, said Pat Berger, president of United Way of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

An anonymous donor recently gave $75,000 to the organization because of this fact, and made donations to United Way organizations in other states for the way it meets community needs, she said.

Rates increase

North Dakota reported a 25 percent increase in its child poverty rate over 2013-14, according to the census survey.

Alaska, New Hampshire and Minnesota were among the top states with the highest increases, which ranged from 7 to 33 percent. Minnesota reported a 7 percent increase.

States reporting the largest declines included Mississippi, Utah and Montana, with decreases ranging from 10 to 15 percent.

Multiple factors can account for the increase in North Dakota, where nearly one out of every three children lives in a low-income family, said Karen Olson, program director for North Dakota Kids Count. Her organization collects statewide data on the socioeconomic well-being of children.

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Challenges related to relocation for better-paying jobs, higher numbers of financially struggling families moving into the state and other reasons contribute to the increase, she said. But none of the reasons is due to parents' lack of employment or education, she said.

"Most parents are working. Most children have a parent who works full time, year-round," she said. "They're working but the incomes they're generating aren't enough to cover the most basic expenses."

Proximity effect

Even children who live near poverty can be affected by it, Olson said.

While there's been no change in the total number of high-poverty neighborhoods-where poverty rates are at least 30 percent-since 2008, more of these neighborhoods are appearing in metro areas, she said. Historically, they have been found on Indian reservations, but now they have been developing in cities like Fargo and Grand Forks, she said.

Because these neighborhoods are more likely to have higher rates of crime and violence, a lack of resources and more unemployment than other neighborhoods, children who come from higher-income families but still live in these neighborhoods can also face the same challenges, she said.

Some families who live near the oil boom in western North Dakota haven't benefited from the state's prosperity, either, Olson said. Incomes there may be higher, but they're still not necessarily enough to cover the increased cost of living, which is not factored into requirements for programs like Head Start, she said.

As the numbers of families living in poverty continues to increase, so does the need to provide specialized education for children, especially early education, she said.

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Several organizations and early education agencies in the state provide assistance or educational opportunities for families. Tara Bitz, early childhood administrator for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, said families can also contact her agency, the state Department of Human Services or the state Department of Commerce for help.

"We're working very hard together to make sure that all services for the children in North Dakota are being met," she said.

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