A new report on child well-being, measured by state and race, has turned an unflattering spotlight on some places 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 American Indian 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 American Indian children. For some advocates for children, the state-specific results were stinging.

“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.”

He noted that a report by his council last year on Wisconsin’s Dane County — home to the University of Wisconsin’s main campus — had turned up glaring black-white discrepancies in and around Madison, the relatively progressive and prosperous capital city.

“We knew we were among the worst, but there is something striking about having a national organization rank us last … especially when our white children are ranked 10th,” said Colleen Butler, racial justice director for the YWCA in Madison.

“Sadly, the national attention is something that is inspiring people to figure out what’s going on and how to improve,” Butler said. “It’s going to be a long-term process. It won’t happen overnight.”


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.

Scores for Maine were not available.

In Michigan, unlike Wisconsin, white children also ranked in the bottom half of the index. The net result is “a very distressful picture about all children in Michigan,” according to Tonya Allen, president and chief executive of the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation, which invests $17 million each year in education, community programs and youth development.

“When you look at the people who have left Michigan and have left the city of Detroit, the largest percentage is families with young children,” she said. “People are not finding Michigan — or Detroit — a compelling place to raise their children.”

In the Casey index for American Indian 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 Indian reservations.

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