FARGO — A new policy report claims North Dakota families are struggling to meet basic needs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The data shows what we already suspected. North Dakota families are struggling to meet basic needs like health care or a place to live,” said Xanna Burg, North Dakota Kids Count coordinator.

The Kids Count report, released Dec. 14 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, examined data from weekly surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey between April 23 and Oct. 12. The survey queried one adult in each household and asked four questions related to having enough food to eat, paying rent or mortgage on time, health insurance and emotional status.

According to a “snapshot” of respondents during four weeks of September and October, nearly 6% of North Dakota families with children often don’t have enough to eat, while 1 in 6 are worried about paying rent or mortgage on time. Nearly 1 in 8 families with children in the state didn't have health insurance, and 1 in 7 felt depressed or hopeless.

In comparison, 8% of families with children in Minnesota often don’t have enough to eat, according to the report. About 11% of families there are worried about paying their rent or mortgage on time, another 8% do not have health insurance, and 15% felt depressed or hopeless.

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In South Dakota, 12% of families with children often don’t have enough to eat. Another 11% of families with children are worried about paying their rent or mortgage on time, 9% don’t have health insurance, and 14% felt depressed or hopeless, according to the report.

Some of the survey’s toughest findings came from states like Mississippi and New Mexico, where 20% of families with children did not have enough to eat.

“This is a problem in every region of the country, with 20% or more of adults with children reporting housing instability in 13 states, including the four largest ones, California, Texas, Florida and New York,” the report stated.

Food awaits being sorted for distribution at the Emergency Food Pantry in Fargo. Forum file photo
Food awaits being sorted for distribution at the Emergency Food Pantry in Fargo. Forum file photo

The report also warned of a “looming housing catastrophe” for people of color, with more than double the rate of white families saying they are afraid of losing their homes.

“Families who lack financial stability cannot fully support their children or provide the opportunities necessary to foster their development,” the report stated. “Parents need not only jobs with steady, family-sustaining pay but also affordable housing in a stable community and the ability to save for the future. All these dimensions of economic well-being have been affected by the pandemic.”

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, an organization that seeks to strengthen families and communities, urged state legislators across the nation to put COVID-19 at the top of their agendas.

Additionally, the foundation recommended legislators take a hard look at diverse perspectives to help communities of color, make children’s mental health a top priority, open up more unemployment benefits for families in need and build equity balances into relief packages.

“When families cannot afford rent or food to eat, they are faced with impossible decisions on how to prioritize their children’s most basic needs. North Dakota children and families need state and national policymakers to act now to ensure children have what they need to thrive during this challenging time,” Burg said.

North Dakota Kids Count is a resource for data on child and family well-being, and is a project of the Montana Budget & Policy Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.