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States among best for kids

North Dakota and Minnesota rank among the top 10 states on measures affecting the well-being of children, shows an annual survey released today.

The 2008 Kids Count Data Book issued by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation listed North Dakota seventh, while Minnesota fell from the top of the list to No. 2.

The survey features 10 measures of child well-being such as education, health and economic conditions of families.

North Dakota's rank is up one from eighth in 2007.

The state ranked No. 1 in the survey for having the lowest high school dropout rate at 3 percent for teenagers ages of 16 to 19.

It also had the lowest percentage of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.

"North Dakota has always placed in (the survey's) top 10, so it was not much of a surprise," said Richard Rathge, executive director of ND Kids Count.

Other survey results for North Dakota:

E The percentage of children living in single-parent families was 24, ranking it third nationwide.

E The percentage of teens ages 16 to 19 not working or going to school was 5, ranking it second nationwide.

Despite North Dakota's top rankings, the survey noted a large increase in teen death rates among those ages 15 to 19. Deaths per 100,000 jumped from 52 percent in 2000 to 80 percent in 2005.

Rathge said the number of teen deaths in North Dakota was low considering its smaller population compared with other states. He said most teen deaths were from traffic crashes or suicides.

Rathge said the state's teen suicide rate doubled from 6 percent in 2002 to 13 percent in 2006.

"The purpose of the survey is to raise awareness of the trends," he said. "That's why these indicators are important to us."

Joe Pederson, executive director of Moorhead-based Lakes and Prairies Community Action, attributed Minnesota's No. 2 ranking to an increase in the percentage of children living in poverty.

The survey said 12 percent of Minnesota children lived in poverty in 2006, a 3 percent rise from 9 percent in 2000.

"It's not a surprise to me. I would have expected (the ranking) to have been further down the line," Pederson said. Lakes and Prairies Community Action is a social services organization that administers early-childhood programs in Clay and Wilkin counties.

Pederson believes a lack of funding from the state Legislature and a rise in energy costs contributed to Minnesota's drop from first to second.

When legislators don't increase funding for children's programs and health-care costs, services are reduced, he said.

"There needs to be more revenue put into the system or more decisions made on items such as tax cuts," Pederson said.

New Hampshire took the top spot overall in the survey, and Mississippi placed last.