ASHEBORO — Households with children were hit especially hard during the pandemic in 2020, but North Carolina appears to be experiencing the start of a recovery in the first months of 2021.
New data shows early signs that pandemic relief measures are having a positive impact on kids, according to the 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book. The 50-state report of recent household data was developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a charitable foundation focused on improving the well-being of American children.
As a result of the pandemic, there has been an economic downfall resulting in massive job losses of thousands of parents in the state. While some parents have gone back to work, many are still faltering from the impact of income losses.
That has a huge impact on children’s ability to thrive in counties all over North Carolina. Across the Piedmont, reports show more than half of children in Randolph and Alamance counties lived in low-income households due to the pandemic, while Davidson County children were reported at 49%.
Since thousands of parents lost their jobs, they also lost the health insurance they previously received. In all three counties, at least one in four have access to health care.
In Randolph County, research shows that poverty is one of the most important factors affecting a child’s long-term health and development. Those who were earning the lowest wages before the pandemic have been most likely to lose jobs and suffer long-term hardship.
Organizations such as NC Child advocate for public policies to ensure that every child in the state has the opportunity to thrive whatever race, ethnicity, or place of birth.
According to Vikki Crouse, NC KIDS COUNT project director, poverty and lack of health insurance are higher in the state’s rural areas as compared to cities. That puts children at greater risk of negative outcomes in health, education, and earning potential.
When analyzing hunger, health care, and the basic needs of state residents, Crouse saw a decrease in children struggling this year. However, in 2020 there were many factors that contributed to an increase of concerns.
One persistent indicator of economic distress is hunger: 16% of households with children in the state reported sometimes or often not having enough food to eat in the past two weeks. By March 2021, the figure was down to 10%, suggesting the beginnings of a recovery.
22% of households with children experienced housing insecurity: Reporting little or no confidence in their ability to pay their next rent or mortgage payment. In March 2021, that figure went down to 17% of families with children.
The pandemic impacted how children received education across the state: Among households with children, 15% of households with children enrolled in K-12 education reported limited access to the internet and a computer or digital device for learning. In March 2021, that figure decreased to 10% of households with children.
The pandemic has also taken a toll on parents’ and caregivers’ mental health: The percentage of adults from households with children experiencing depression symptoms increased from 19% during the pandemic in 2020, to 22% in March 2021.
Crouse said advocacy groups have made investments to create positive trends that help families. “Simply returning to a pre-pandemic level of support for children and families would shortchange millions of US kids, and fail to address persistent racial and ethnic disparities.”
She believes there are many solutions to help families in need. One solution that would help sustain positive effects is for Congress to make the expanded child tax credit permanent.
The Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan gives working families automatic monthly refunds. However, Congress authorized this expansion for only one year.
Crouse believes state legislators should expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act since the American Rescue Plan offers huge financial incentives for the state to do so.
The foundation urges lawmakers to find a common cause to ensure the largest one-year drop ever in child poverty is not followed by the largest-ever one-year surge.