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Study’s low marks on youth well-being stir states

April 1, 2014

A new report on child well-being, measured by state and race, has turned an unflattering spotlight on some U.S. states not used to being at the bottom of such lists, including Wisconsin, with a worst-in-the-nation ranking for its black children, and South Dakota, with abysmal results for its Native American youth.

The report, released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, detailed nationwide racial disparities that put Asian and white children in a far more advantageous position than black, Latino and Native American children. For some advocates for children, the state-specific results were stinging.

The essence of the Casey report is a newly devised index based on 12 indicators measuring a child’s success from birth to adulthood. The indicators include reading and math proficiency, high school graduation data, teen birthrates, employment prospects, family income and education levels, and neighborhood poverty levels.

Nationally, Asian children had the highest composite score at 776, followed by white children at 704. Then there was a sharp drop-off: the scores were 404 for Latino children, 387 for American-Indian children and 345 for black children.

Wisconsin had the worst score for its black youth at 285, followed by Mississippi, then Michigan.

“Wisconsin is a state that claims to value opportunity and community and fairness,” said Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. “That we are the worst in the nation when it comes to the well-being of our African-American children is unacceptable.”

In the Casey index for Native American children, the South Dakota score of 185 was the lowest of any racial group in any state — a result of the deep poverty that prevails on many of South Dakota’s tribal reservations.

Sherry Salway Black, a tribal governance expert with the National Congress of American Indians, described the South Dakota score as “horrendous,” but said she was impressed by initiatives on some of the reservations that could help children and families.

In particular, she praised native-run community development financial institutions for seeking to improve youth employment and provide young people with financial literacy education.

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Associated Press writer Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.

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Follow David Crary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP

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