New COVID-19 report paints bleak picture for DC-area kids, households

A new nationwide study examining how U.S. households are faring with COVID-19 paints a bleak picture for children and families in the D.C. region.

The state-by-state study, which included the District, ranked D.C. 42nd in the country when considering childhood hunger, ease of remote learning and ability to pay bills.

Save the Children’s report, released Tuesday, found nearly half (45%) of D.C. families with children are behind on their rent payments.

Alongside D.C., Maryland was counted among the lowest-rated jurisdictions for access and availability of food, one of the three major categories in the study referred to as “food scarcity.”

Large numbers of D.C. and Maryland households included in the study, 46.6% and 45% respectively, were also found to have had difficulty paying bills in general.

“There are an estimated 17 million hungry children now in America — 6 million more than before the pandemic,” the study reported. “Food scarcity is highest in Louisiana (25%), Arkansas (23%), and Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C. (all 22%).”

All three major jurisdictions — D.C., Maryland and Virginia — had similar per capita COVID-19 case rates.

From Jan. 21 to Dec. 31, 2020, D.C. had 4,075 COVID-19 cases per 100,000; Maryland had 4,576; and Virginia had 4,096.

Virginia ranked better overall than D.C. and Maryland — 11th highest among 50 states and the District — within the study’s three categories: Not enough to eat, inadequate tools for remote learning and difficulty paying bills. Maryland ranked 34 and D.C. ranked 42.

But the report found in general that COVID-19 had a devastating impact on children and their families, especially Black and Brown communities, those in rural areas and low-income households.

“Nationwide, two-thirds of U.S. families are having difficulty making ends meet,” the report said.

Nine million more families with children under age 18 are struggling to pay bills, the number of households in the U.S. with children had trouble paying bills doubled in 2020, and households with children were 40% more likely to experience economic hardship.

Sixty-nine percent of households with children are having difficulty paying normal household expenses, 43% of rural households have lost jobs or wages since the pandemic began, and 42% report serious financial problems, including depleted savings and struggling to pay for food and housing.

At least one-in-four children do not always have the tools they need for distance learning, lower-income students are less likely to have a conducive learning environment, such as a quiet space to study, and nationwide an estimated 3 million vulnerable students — who are homeless, in foster care, have disabilities or are nonnative English speakers — appear not to be in school at all, according to the study.

Two out of three Black and Hispanic families, 63% and 67% respectively, reported losing employment income, compared to 50% of white families. Nationwide, approximately 25% of Black and Hispanic households are behind in their rent, compared to 12% for white households.

“Children who are poor, live in rural areas and communities of color are most likely to go hungry, lack access to remote learning tools and have families struggling to pay basic bills,” the report stated.

Finally, the report found that states where children are faring best are not necessarily ones with the lowest COVID-19 infections rates, but rather those with plans and resources in place.

“The best states for children during the pandemic are Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah and Washington,” according to the report. “The worst states for families during the pandemic are Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas.”

The study focused on households with children 17-years-old and younger for five months, from Aug. 19 — Dec. 21, 2020. Racial and income inequality impacts for families nationwide and by state, including the District, were analyzed. Save the Children used data from the CDC, the U.S. Census, The Annie E. Casey Foundation and KIDS COUNT Data Center for its report.

Save the Children’s data can be found online.

Glynis Kazanjian

Glynis Kazanjian has been a freelance writer covering Maryland politics and government on the local, state and federal levels for the last 11 years. Her work is published in Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Post Examiner, Bethesda Beat and Md. Reporter. She has also worked as a true crime researcher.

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