A new report from the Annie E. Casey foundation ranks Kentucky 37th in the nation for overall child well-being, the same ranking as the last report in 2020. The 2021 rankings are based on 2019 data on family income, child health indicators and educational outcomes. They show the state made progress in the last decade up until the pandemic.
Before 2020, data shows, the state was slowly improving on a number of indicators. The percentage of children in poverty fell from 26% in 2010 to 22% in 2019. Compared to 2010, Kentucky children had higher birth weights, were more likely to have health insurance, were less likely to die before adulthood and were less likely to give birth as a teenager.
Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks said the report also shows the pandemic has the potential to derail progress, and is urging state and federal officials to take action.
“The pandemic absolutely played havoc with economic well-being for families across Kentucky,” Brooks said.
In 2020, as the coronavirus spread across the country, a number of indicators showed families struggling. By late November 2020, 19% of households with children said they didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days. By January 2021, 23% of households with children said they weren’t confident they would be able to pay their mortgage or rent.
Since then, the data shows some recovery. But Brooks says there are still “opportunities” to “deliver relief for Kentucky’s families.”
In March of 2021, as COVID-19 vaccine access was slowly increasing, 15% of Kentucky households with children reported they were worried about being able to pay their rent or mortgage on time, compared to 18% nationwide. 13% in Kentucky reported that they sometimes or often do not have enough food to eat.
“That kind of measure we see is probably back on the right track, but I think we all have to be diligent in looking at data,” Brooks said.
Kentucky families were on par with the national average for a number of other concerning indicators:
- 22% of adults felt down, depressed or hopeless
- 12% did not have internet and a computer to participate in remote work or online learning
- 42% canceled or reduced plans for postsecondary education
Brooks is advocating for elected officials to increase government help to families, including making a new child tax credit expansion permanent. Congress passed up to $3,600 per household in child tax credits as part of the latest federal coronavirus relief package.
“That act alone will lift almost 150,000 children out of poverty,” he said. “It is so important that Congress make that a permanent measure.”
Brooks is also advocating for expanding school-based nutrition programs, increasing access to high-quality child care and giving state employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave.