Overall, Minnesota still ranks No. 2 nationally in the annual "Kids Count" study, with strong showings in health and educational status.
But several indicators seem to show the effect of a sharp downturn in Minnesota's economy and state budget cuts in the past several years.
"It's not surprising, but it's bothersome," said Nan Madden, an analyst at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits who directs its Minnesota Budget Project. "We've become a more fragile state economically, and when that happens, poverty rises."
The Kids Count report is produced annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore.
Minnesota's slippage appears to reflect the start of the recession in 2007, when the state's job creation and incomes began to lag behind national averages, said Chuck Johnson, assistant commissioner of children and family services at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. It could also reflect the state's changing demographic makeup, he said.
"We're beginning to look more like the rest of the country," Johnson said.
"Certainly we should be concerned," he added, although he noted that the child-poverty figures were virtually unchanged from last year's report. "There are some things we should look at -- more work collecting child-support payments, for instance."
However, child poverty almost certainly is increasing because of the weak economy and state cuts in programs such as child care assistance for low-income families, said Johnson and Kara Arzamendia, research director for the Children's Defense Fund Minnesota.
Problems could worsen
Next year's report -- reflecting the state's worsening economy in 2008 -- could show 35,000 to 40,000 additional Minnesota children in poverty -- about the same increase as occurred between 2000 and 2007, Arzamendia said. It could be even higher because of immigration, she said. Minnesota has been a destination for many immigrants and refugees in recent years, and new immigrants often are in poverty until they acquire language skills and land jobs.
"The poverty rate is particularly important because it affects so many factors of children's well-being -- health, education, safety, social development, overall preparation to be a successful adult," she said.
Arzamendia is preparing a Minnesota analysis, to be released next month, that includes the Kids Count data. Among other things, her report will show large racial and ethnic differences in measures of poverty and teen births, she said.
She and Johnson said poverty and some other disadvantages tend to be higher among blacks and American Indians than among non-Hispanic whites.
Arzamendia argues that restoring funding for some state programs could help.
"We made cuts in 2003 when we had major state budget problems and we didn't buy them back," she said. "What did other states do? Well, some of them are doing something right. While our numbers remain pretty good, Minnesota's changes generally were not as good as the national average."
Some ups and downs
Minnesota remains a national leader by many measures, including child health and teens staying in school.
Minnesota is No. 1 with the lowest percent of teens not in school and not working. That stands at 4 percent, unchanged since 2000, compared with 8 percent nationally.
The state is No. 2 in the lowest percent of high school dropouts at 3 percent, down from 7 percent in 2000. Nationally, the percentage is 7 percent.
Minnesota also scored well on measures of child deaths, teen births and percent of infants with low birth weights.
But Minnesota has lost ground on four of the 10 measures that go into the national ranking -- in some instances, like children in poverty, worsening far faster than the national average.
In addition, Minnesota's percent of children in single-parent families rose by 24 percent -- eight times the national average. The percent of children in families where no parent has a full-time, year-around job rose by 22 percent -- seven times the national average.
Still, Minnesota was ranked No. 7 on those two measures because the actual numbers remained well below the national average.
In general, most Midwestern states ranked high, and New Hampshire was No. 1. Over the past decade, Minnesota has often ranked near the top and was No. 1 five times, most recently in 2007.
"It's interesting to look at how Minnesota compares with other states," Arzamendia said. "But it's most helpful to look at our direction, to see where we are gaining and where we seem to be losing ground.
"We're moving the right direction in childhood deaths, teen births and kids staying in school," she said.
"We're not heading the right direction on childhood poverty, and we need to ask why. Our kids depend on those answers, and so does the Minnesota economy."