Coronavirus

Shawn Millsaps/ Courtesy of Save the Children

These Are The Worst States For Kids During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Some states rank worse than others when it comes to protecting and providing for children amid the pandemic.

One year into nationwide school closures and stay-at-home orders, more children are going hungry, missing out on vital schooling, and shouldering worries about their family's economic future. But when it comes to supporting children, some states have been worse for children amid the pandemic than others.

A new report from Save the Children found that Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico, and Alabama as the five states where childhood has been least protected during the current coronavirus pandemic. To determine their COVID Child Protection Ranking, Save the Children looked at three factors they deemed important to children, particularly during a pandemic: food security, access to the tools and resources needed for remote learning, and adequate finances to cover household expenses.

"Having access to enough food and continuing to learn are essential for a child's healthy growth and development," the report noted. "When a family can't meet its regular expenses — including housing — it creates a level of stress and trauma that further threatens a child's ability to thrive. The ranking reveals where hunger, learning loss, and financial stress are most widespread."

In Louisiana, a state that ranked the absolute worst for children during the pandemic, 50% of families struggled to cover basic household expenses while 25% did not have enough to eat and another 25% did not have regular access to the internet or a digital device that could be used for educational purposes.

Just across the border in Mississippi, 55.2% of families reported difficulty paying bills while 20.8% said they did not have enough to eat and 15.6% reported having inadequate tools for remote learning. Additionally, 47% of Mississippi families said their children were spending less time on learning activities during the pandemic compared to before.

In Texas, a state that ranked 48th out of 50, just over 49% of families reported struggling with household expenses. Some 21% of families said they did not have enough to eat while 14.7% of families reported they did not have the resources necessary for remote learning. To the west of Texas in New Mexico, the digital divide is smaller but more families have experienced difficulty in paying bills. Nearly 56% of New Mexico families have struggled financially in 2020 while just 12.7% report not having adequate remote learning tools.

While Save the Children stressed that families are suffering at all income levels in every state, the organization noted it's the nation's poorest families who have struggled most during the pandemic. In Louisiana, for example, hardship indicators were heightened among the state's poorest families. While half of families in the state reported difficulty covering household expenses, 72% of Louisiana's poorest households said they struggled to keep up with bills and more than 50% said it was "very difficult" for them to afford basics like food and rent.

Save the Children estimated families earning less than $25,000 a year were 15 times more likely to experience food insecurity than families with annual household incomes of $200,000. Children in these low-income families are also four times as likely to lack access to the internet and real-time contact with teachers during the pandemic, effectively hindering their education. Additionally, research has shown low-income communities also experience higher rates of depression and serious illness from COVID-19, meaning poor children's health may be at greater risk amid the pandemic.

"Far too many children in America are faced with disadvantages that have been magnified by COVID-19," Betsy Zorio, vice president of Save the Children’s U.S. Programs and Advocacy, said in a statement. "We know kids need full bellies and minds to succeed in school and life. Policymakers at all levels of government – from the President down to local school administrators – need to adequately invest in programs and services that protect America’s kids. We must act now to ensure our children, and future generations, have the childhood they deserve."

Although no state was without hardships of some kind, Save the Children ranked Minnesota, Utah, Washington, New Hampshire, and North Dakota as the best states for children during the ongoing pandemic.