New report: Good news for America’s kids – but with one major caveat
The new Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT Data Book is out and there is good news and bad news – and a strong recommendation that Congress make the Child Tax Credit expansion permanent.
The 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book measures the well-being of children in 16 “indicators,” which one might think of as issue areas. This year, the data runs through 2019, the last year for which complete data is available, meaning the report does not fully document downturns experienced by children during the pandemic. However, the report includes helpful tables making use of more current Census Bureau surveys to show the harsh impact of the pandemic in March of this year.
This year’s report found that between 2010 and 2019, children improved nationally in 11 out of 16 areas, essentially stayed the same in four areas, and fell further behind in one area – low birth weights.
But the report comes with a major, fundamental caveat: the Foundation warns that nearly a decade of progress after the Great Recession could be erased by the COVID-19 pandemic unless policymakers act boldly to sustain the beginnings of a recovery.
“The COVID-19 crisis has brought many families to the breaking point, especially parents and caregivers who have lost jobs and incomes,” said Lisa Hamilton, President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation in a news release. “Making the expanded child tax credit permanent will continue providing critical financial support for families who are struggling to make ends meet and help reduce long-standing disparities that affect millions of families of color.”
The Foundation notes that the annual KIDS COUNT report contains data and rankings that represent the most comprehensive survey data available, but do not represent the impact of the past year.
The report found that in 2019, the latest year for which the national estimate is available, 12 million kids (17 percent) lived in poverty. The pandemic brought on dire economic circumstances for millions of people, some of whom were already living in poverty and others who found themselves struggling in new ways.
It found that 4.4 million children (6 percent) lacked health insurance in 2019. This was the first increase in uninsured children in a decade, and that was before the pandemic hit.
And on a happier note, the report found that in 2019, an all-time low one in seven high school students (14 percent) failed to graduate from high school on time, and the rate of children living in high-poverty areas fell for the fourth straight year, to 9 percent. Still more than one million teens were neither in school nor working (6 percent), in this pre-pandemic period. We know from other data that unemployment among 16-24 year-olds spiked to nearly one in three at the beginning of the pandemic (in April, 2020), but a year later, more than 10 percent of this age group, and nearly 17 percent of Black 16-24 year-olds, were still unemployed.
To capture the pandemic’s toll, the Foundation also included in its report some data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, which offers snapshots of how America’s families and children fared during the pandemic. The report found that in 2020, more than one in eight adults with children in the household (13 percent) lacked health insurance. However, by March 2021, this figure had fallen to 11 percent, suggesting the beginnings of a recovery. And it found that during the pandemic in 2020, more than one in five households with children (22 percent) said they only had slight confidence or no confidence that they would be able to make their next rent or mortgage payment on time. However, by March 2021, this figure had fallen to 18 percent, also reflecting positive momentum.
Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Minnesota placed first, second, and third in the annual KIDS COUNT rankings that are based on pre-pandemic data. Louisiana (48th), Mississippi (49th) and New Mexico (50th) were the three lowest-ranked states. While KIDS COUNT does not include Puerto Rico in the state rankings, they do include data that should not be ignored. Compellingly, Puerto Rico’s child poverty rate in 2019 was 57 percent. The highest child poverty rate among states was Mississippi, at 28 percent.
States in Appalachia, as well as the Southeast and Southwest – where families have the lowest levels of household income – populate the bottom of the overall rankings. In fact, except for Alaska, the 17 lowest-ranked states are in these regions.
In addition to recommending that Congress make the Child Tax Credit extension permanent, this year’s KIDS COUNT report contains these recommendations:
“State and local governments should prioritize the recovery of hard-hit communities of color.
“States should expand income support that helps families care for their children. Permanently extending unemployment insurance eligibility to contract, gig, and other workers and expanding state tax credits would benefit parents and children.
“States that have not done so should expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The American Rescue Plan offers incentives to do so.
“Leaders should strengthen public schools and pathways to postsecondary education and training.”
You can read the entire 50-page report here, including state fact sheets and comparison tables.