5 x 8: Poverty vs. cocaine is no match


Which has a bigger influence on the development of a baby? The cocaine ingested in a mother’s womb, or the poverty he/she is born into? We now know the answer.

A 1989 study in Philadelphia found that nearly one in six newborns at city hospitals had mothers who tested positive for cocaine. That led investigators to begin the long-term study of 224 babies born over a three-year period. Those babies are now 21 to 24 years old.

Researchers figured they’d found out the extent of in-vitro cocaine on development but they found something else was far more influential: poverty, the Philadelphia Inquirer says.

As the children grew, the researchers did many evaluations to tease out environmental factors that could be affecting their development. On the upside, they found that children being raised in a nurturing home – measured by such factors as caregiver warmth and affection and language stimulation – were doing better than kids in a less nurturing home.

On the downside, they found that 81 percent of the children had seen someone arrested; 74 percent had heard gunshots; 35 percent had seen someone get shot; and 19 percent had seen a dead body outside – and the kids were only 7 years old at the time. Those children who reported a high exposure to violence were likelier to show signs of depression and anxiety and to have lower self-esteem.

More recently, the team did MRI scans on the participants’ brains. Some research has suggested that gestational cocaine exposure can affect brain development, especially the dopamine system, which in turn can harm cognitive function. An area of concern is “executive functioning,” a set of skills involved in planning, problem-solving, and working memory.

The investigators found one brain area linked to attention skills that differed between exposed and nonexposed children, but they could not find any clinically significant effect on behavioral tests of attention skills.

Drug use did not differ between the exposed and nonexposed participants as young adults. About 42 percent used marijuana and three tested positive for cocaine one time each.

The team has kept tabs on 110 of the 224 children originally in the study. Of the 110, two are dead – one shot in a bar and another in a drive-by shooting – three are in prison, six graduated from college, and six more are on track to graduate. There have been 60 children born to the 110 participants.

The years of tracking kids have led Hurt to a conclusion she didn’t see coming.

“Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine,” Hurt said.

(h/t: Vince Tuss)

Related: Why breast cancer kills more black women: They’re sicker (NBC)


MPR Photo/Bob Collins

It must be tough being “Big Blue,” the iconic old bridge in Hastings that for decades was the signature of the city. It’s been replaced now by “Big Terracotta,” a bigger, more convenient bridge for Highway 61.

MPR Photo/Bob Collins

“Big Blue” is in its last days. It’s being dismantled. The roadway on the Hastings side of the Mississippi is gone. And the last of the concrete on the bridge was stripped away. It’s naked to the sky.

MPR Photo/Bob Collins

Hastings is already smitten with the new bridge, as it should be. It’s safer and faster. And few people likely will miss Big Blue when it is gone for good. Soon.

MPR Photo/Bob Collins


What’s killing the skyway restaurants of Minneapolis? Owners of the skyway-level restaurants say it’s the food trucks on the streets below, WCCO reports. Peter’s Grill, German Hotdog and Taco John’s have closed recently.

“It’s all concentrated in one area and it’s an unfair playing field,” a pizza shop owner says.

The skyway restaurants want the trucks more regulated, and prevented from concentrating in one area.

Maybe people don’t want to eat pizza or chain-restaurant Mexican food.

Also: Why isn’t this a problem in Saint Paul?

Related: Some restaurants think outside the box. A happy hour for mutts (Duluth News Tribune)


Since the Legislature gave Minnesota counties permission to tack another $10 — $20 in 2018 — onto the cost of owning a car in the state, the counties can’t raise the “wheelage tax” fast enough. This week Renville County, Faribault County, and Douglas County added the tax. Hennepin and Ramsey added it last week.

“An 80-plus-year-old widow is paying the same amount to drive as a person who drives 80,000 [miles] a year. I don’t think it’s a fair tax, but it is a tax, not a user fee,” Faribault County Commissioner Bill Groskreutz said.

But a few counties have balked. Nicollet County officials said “no” yesterday.

It’s opponents say they worry the state will start shifting transportation funding to counties, while still collecting the state’s gas tax that was raised a few years ago as the answer to transportation funding. It didn’t work. Supporters say it doesn’t change the calculation for state transportation funding, however.

In arguing for Stearns County to raise the tax next week, the St. Cloud Times notes that the state is dropping transportation projects:

This area learned recently that the long-planned expansion of Interstate Highway 94 to six lanes between Rogers and St. Cloud won’t just be delayed a few more years; it is expected to be dropped from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s list of planned improvements for the next 20 years.

Motorcycles, mopeds, trailers, semitrailers, collector vehicles and state owned vehicles are not subject to the wheelage tax.


The tragedy of kids being mistakenly left in hot cars has played out in Minnesota many times; too many times. Now, the New York Times reports, there’s a solution: A car seat that tells you when you’ve left a child behind.

The sensors in the seat could detect the presence of a child weighing 5 to 65 pounds. An electronic module sends alerts to a smartphone via Bluetooth. If the caretaker does not respond to the alert, the module will send e-mail and text messages to as many as 12 addresses or phone numbers that have been entered by the caretaker. These messages are delivered through the cellular network.

Of course, to buy one, you’d have to acknowledge that leaving a kid in a hot car is something you might do.

Bonus I: The joys of retirement. 70-year-old on a 4,285-mile cross-country bicycle trek (Fargo Forum).

Bonus II: Carlos Danger name generator: Get a name like Anthony Weiner’s alleged sexting pseudonym. (Slate Magazine)

Bonus III: Minnesota Moments from Brainerd. Hey, who knew this fishing thing was so darned easy?

Should Lynn Rogers be allowed to continue his work with Minnesota bears?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: President Obama’s speech on the economy.

Related: Obama returns focus to America’s struggling middle class (Pew Research Center)

Second hour: Hugh Aldersey-Williams, journalist and the author of numerous books including, most recently, “Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body.”

Third hour: Benjamin Percy, author of two novels, including Red Moon and The Wilding as well as two books of short stories. He’s the writer-in-residence at St. Olaf.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, from the Aspen Ideas Festival.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – A New 21st Century Cold War? | Internet Policing & The Battle for Porn in the U.K. | Braving Violence for the Sake of Journalism in Somalia

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – The most expensive political contest in Minnesota next year is likely to be the race for U.S. Senate. First-term Democrat Al Franken is running for re-election and has two Republicans already competing to run against him. Franken has spent much of the past six years keeping a low profile but he’s now ramping up a campaign to compete against two Republicans who are taking different paths to beat him. Tom Scheck has a look at how the campaign is starting to shape up.

Dr. Bill Thomas was caring for nursing home patients when he had a revelation. Hed been treating the symptoms of their ailments, but not the cause: loneliness. That prompted a radical idea: replace nursing homes with so-called “Green House homes.” Thomas helped make them a reality and a success. NPR visits the Green House Project.