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Monitoring Childhood Poverty during and after COVID-19November 16, 2021:
Childhood poverty has been brought to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic, with pandemic restrictions making it harder for families with low incomes to meet the needs of their children.1 As schools switched to distance learning, many children from low-income households faced new or heightened food insecurity without access to free and reduced-price lunches at school sites. Remote schooling worsened inequities as children from low-income households also disproportionately lacked sufficient access to technology and home learning environments that were safe and well-supervised.2,3,4 Moreover, recent studies point toward the number of children dealing with the challenges of poverty increasing as the pandemic progressed, with the number of children living in poverty growing by an estimated 2.5 million between May 2020 and September 2020.5
What the 2019 Data Tell Us
The most recent annual estimates of childhood poverty at the federal and state
levels come from the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey (ACS).
Consideration of 2019 childhood poverty rates across the country provides important pre-pandemic baseline context for future understanding of how the COVID-19 crisis
may have impacted children and families who are living in poverty. The 2019 ACS data show that:
|- Nearly one in every five children in the United States lived in poverty in 2019.|
|- Mississippi had the highest child poverty rate with almost one in every three children (31.9 percent) living in poverty.|
|- New Hampshire had the lowest child poverty rate with less than one in every ten children (9.7 percent) living in poverty.|
|- Child poverty rates tended to be higher in states across the South. (Figure 1.) The five states with the highest rates were:|
|Mississippi||Louisiana||Arkansas||New Mexico||District of Columbia|
| - States with lower childhood poverty rates were spread across the Northeast, Midwest, and West Census Regions. (Figure 1.)
The five lowest rates were found in:
|New Hampshire||North Dakota||Minnesota||Wyoming||Nebraska|
What Happened in 2020?
Unfortunately, the data that SHADAC uses to measure Children in Poverty comes from the American Community Survey (ACS), for which the U.S. Census Bureau announced in July 2021 that it will not be releasing its standard 1-year estimates from 2020 due to impacts of the COVID pandemic. Instead, the Bureau plans to release 2020 ACS 1-year “experimental” estimates in November 2021, for which they have cautioned against use in analysis due to substantially lower response rates than usual and nonresponse bias.
However, the Census Bureau has released 2020 estimates from another major survey, the Current Population Survey (CPS), which SHADAC has also used to produce special, 1-year only, state-level estimates of health insurance coverage in lieu of data from the ACS.
Nationally, the CPS shows that the rate of childhood poverty was 16.1 percent in 2020, representing approximately 11.6 million children. While this rate represents a statistically significant increase from 14.4 percent in 2019, the Census Bureau has again cautioned that data from this year may also have been impacted by the pandemic. Comparing with the rate of 16.2 percent of children at 2018, then, shows a potentially more stable trend, as this rate does not statistically differ from 2020.6 The extent to which children in poverty have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic therefore remains uncertain at this time, and researchers at SHADAC plan to continue monitoring a variety of data sources in order to determine which, if any, might be able to paint a clear picture of what happened to measures of poverty in the U.S. in 2020.
The country is opening back up as COVID-19 vaccination rates grow. However, families with lower incomes, in particular, are still recovering from over a year of shut-down activities and the challenges of poverty that have been potentially exacerbated by the COVID-19 public health crisis.7 Federal and state policymakers have targeted relief at these same families, recognizing the particular hardships they have faced during the pandemic. At the federal level, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 began distributing the Child Tax Credit - that includes extended SNAP benefits as well as direct payments - to qualifying families beginning in July 2021, which may also play a role in attempts to reduce childhood poverty in 2021.8 And some states have passed measures of their own to support families with lower incomes who have children. In Minnesota, for example, the state’s current budget includes provision for a one-time payment of up to $435 to support about 32,000 families, including 64,000 children. In Washington, legislators passed a tax exemption for working families with lower incomes that will provide up to $1,200 per year to residents of the state.9
Estimates of childhood poverty rates in 2020, if they are able to be made available at some point, may indicate the extent to which state-level efforts, in particular, have been applied in areas of the country where they were most needed and will also indicate where further efforts to remediate childhood poverty are still required. Further monitoring will be necessary in subsequent years to identify ongoing and new areas of need as well as areas where policies to remediate childhood poverty may have been beneficial.
About the Data
The estimates cited here can be accessed through SHADAC’s online data tool, State Health Compare. Estimates are available for 2008-2019 and are generated by SHADAC’s analysis of the American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS).
1 Children’s Defense Fund. (2021). The State of America’s Children® 2021: Child poverty. https://www.childrensdefense.org/state-of-americas-children/soac-2021-child-poverty/
2 Lakahni, R. (2020, November 4). Learning from a distance: How remote learning can set low-income students back further. RTI International: Insights. https://www.rti.org/insights/how-remote-learning-impacts-low-income-students-covid-19
3 Povich, E. (2020, July 29). Virtual learning means unequal learning. Pew: Stateline. Available at https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2020/07/29/virtual-learning-means-unequal-learning
4 Collis, V., & Vegas, E. (2020, June 22). Unequally disconnected: Access to online Learning in the US. Brookings: Education Plus Development. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2020/06/22/unequally-disconnected-access-to-online-learning-in-the-us/
5 Rodriguez, L. (2020, October 16). 8 Million more people in the US are now living in poverty due to COVID-19. Global Citizen. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/millions-more-people-in-poverty-during-covid-19/
6 Shrider, E.A., Kollar, M., Chen, F., & Semega, J. (2021, September 14). Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020 [P60-273]. U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2021/demo/p60-273.html
Semega, J., Kollar, M., Shrider, E.A., & Creamer, J. (2020, September 15). Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020 [P60-270]. U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-270.html
7 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2021, October 13). Tracking the COVID-19 economy’s effects on food, housing, and employment hardships. COVID Hardship Watch. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/tracking-the-covid-19-recessions-effects-on-food-housing-and
8 H.R. 1319 American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. 117th Congress (2021-2022). https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1319/text
9 Goldbert, M. (2021, April 23). Analysis: Working families’ tax exemption will provide up to $1,200 per year to low-income Washingtonians. Washington State Wire. https://washingtonstatewire.com/analysis-working-families-tax-exemption-will-provide-up-to-1200-per-year-to-low-income-washingtonians/