Minnesota, Utah Are the Best States for Children Amid the Pandemic

Minnesota, Utah and Washington are among the states that have done the best job of protecting children amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released Tuesday by Save the Children, but the organization’s analysis also shows that families are struggling on several fronts across the country.

[READ: Massachusetts Is Best State to Raise a Family, Report Shows]

The report from the humanitarian aid organization analyzed four months of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which was launched last year to study the social and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization focused on responses from households with children under the age of 18 and then ranked states based on three factors studied in the bureau’s survey: “food scarcity, lack of access to tools for remote learning and difficulty paying for household items.”

The top 10 features states from coast to coast. Utah — which was tied for No. 1 with Minnesota — ranked highly despite having among the worst COVID-19 case rates last year, according to the report. Indeed, the report found that “states where children are faring the best are not necessarily the ones with the lowest COVID infection rates.”

“What matters more are the resources and protections in place for children and families,” the report reads.

A snapshot of survey data from the end of 2020 shows why the states in the top 10 ranked where they did. In Washington, which was ranked No. 3 overall, just 11% of families said they did not have enough to eat and 7.4% said they had inadequate remote learning tools between Nov. 25 and Dec. 21, according to Save the Children. Only 5.5% of respondents in Minnesota said they had inadequate learning tools — the best rate among states for that time period. Maine, North Dakota and South Dakota — all of which appeared in the top 10 — also had comparatively low rates for those factors, as well as difficulty paying bills.

While the best states for childhood amid the pandemic are scattered across the country, the states that ranked lowest are mostly concentrated in the South, according to Save the Children. Louisiana, No. 50 on the list, ranked last for the factors of hunger and access to remote learning tools, and near the bottom when it came to difficulty paying bills. In New York — the only non-Southern state to rank in the bottom 10 — nearly 50% of families said they had difficulty paying bills between Nov. 25 and Dec. 21, according to the report. Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico and Alabama rounded out the bottom five along with Louisiana.

Yolanda Minor, the deputy director of Save the Children’s Mississippi programs, said during a Feb. 19 press briefing that in her state, “kids don’t have a quiet place to concentrate for remote learning.” She said that food insecurity impacted one in four children in Mississippi pre-pandemic, and now it’s one in three.

“How can children succeed if their bellies are empty?” Minor said.

Ranking the states can still “hide huge disparities” across all of them, the report notes. In Minnesota, 78% of the poorest households said they cannot stop or control worrying, whereas that rate was just 35% for the wealthiest households. Poverty exacerbates these struggles too: Estimates suggest that families making less than $25,000 annually are about 15 times more likely than those making $200,000 or more to struggle with hunger, according to Save the Children. The report also found that children in Black and Hispanic families have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with these households being twice as likely as white families to lack enough food.

“If you are in a rural, low socioeconomic community and a child of color, the systems in this country are set up in such a way that the deck is really dealt against you,” said Shane Garver, Save the Children’s senior director of U.S. Rural Education Programs, during the briefing. “Any one of those factors — rural, low socioeconomic and child of color — is a challenge, but all three together we see play out in the data on any number of indicators as really setting up for a challenging platform on which a child has to survive and thrive.”

The organization recommends “urgent action” to address the equity gap, including “robust funding” for child care and early childhood education programs. Save the Children also recommends that the additional food insecurity benefits and supports available for children and families amid the pandemic be “made permanent.” Whether the negative impacts of the pandemic on children prove to be lasting will depend on several factors, such as the economic recovery and the status of the next federal stimulus package, according to Betsy Zorio, Save the Children’s vice president of U.S. Programs & Advocacy.

[MORE: States’ Progress on Administering the COVID-19 Vaccines]

“The optimist in me says, well, maybe this will be the moment where we’ll finally do what needs to be done because it’s become painfully obvious how underinvested we are in key anti-poverty programs,” Zorio said during the briefing. “But I think it depends a lot on what happens in the stimulus and how much we prioritize getting kids back to school in a safe way and helping them to catch up.”

More from U.S. News

States’ Progress on Administering the COVID-19 Vaccines

Massachusetts Is Best State to Raise a Family, Report Shows

Governors Appear More Bipartisan in 2021 State of the State Speeches

Minnesota, Utah Are the Best States for Children Amid the Pandemic originally appeared on usnews.com

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