Tennessee data show families with children struggling during COVID crisis

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Tennessee has shown improvement in access to health care but is falling short on economic security and mental health, according to Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and a Roadmap for Recovery, a 50-state report of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how families are faring during the COVID-19 crisis. Alongside the national report, Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth released The State of The Child 2020: COVID-19 Edition taking a deep dive into the state-level data, Tennessee’s response to the pandemic, and how to support child well-being moving forward.
This KIDS COUNT® report and the companion State of the Child report examined data from weekly surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that demonstrate how families across the country are challenged to meet basic needs during this global public health crisis while managing school, work and mental health. The Foundation finds that the concurrent health and economic crises are exacerbating trends that show vulnerable families are unable to fulfill basic needs.
Over half of households with children in Tennessee have lost income since March 13th, 2020. The Hispanic community in Tennessee has been disproportionately impacted with 69 percent of households reporting income loss. Nearly one in four households with children reported being likely or very likely to face eviction or foreclosure within the next two months. Similarly, 23 percent reported having little or no confidence in paying their November rent or mortgage payment on time.
At the end of the summer over half (56 percent) of Tennessee’s young adults ages 18-24 reported feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge most days and 42 percent reported feeling down, depressed or helpless. These were the second-highest percentages in the nation during that time period for both indicators.
“Tennessee’s children have faced remarkable challenges throughout this pandemic. It is our responsibility to ensure they are prioritized and supported throughout our recovery efforts,” said Richard Kennedy, executive director of Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, Tennessee’s member of the KIDS COUNT network.
The report shows how urgent state and federal intervention is to the health and well-being of families with children. Tennesseans, particularly those with children in the household, are in need of state and federal supports. The steps we take now to meet children’s most basic needs can ensure their current and future health as well as long-term development. By measuring food security, the ability to make rent or mortgage payments, health insurance status and mental health concerns, the Casey Foundation identified four pain points for children and families that require immediate action. Percentages of Tennessee families with children who have experienced challenges as measured by these four indicators are listed below:
11 percent said they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the last seven days. Although this number increased over the summer to 18 percent, the rate now is consistent with pre-pandemic rates of food insecurity.
23 percent had slight or no confidence they would make the next rent or mortgage payment on time. Black or African American households reported a much higher percentage of 39 percent.
13 percent did not have health insurance. We have seen a decrease in the number of households lacking health insurance since a high of 21 percent at the beginning of the pandemic.
1 in 5 felt down, depressed or hopeless and 1 in 3 felt nervous, anxious or on edge.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation urges policymakers and child advocates to unite across differences and put COVID-19 response at the top of 2021 agendas to ensure that children have what they need to survive and thrive. The Foundation calls on elected officials and other decision makers to:Put racial and ethnic equity first in policymaking by using disaggregated data and engaging community stakeholders. This should ensure that the policymaking process is informed by the diverse perspectives of those hardest hit by the crisis and created in partnership with communities. This approach should underpin any concrete policy actions.
Prioritize the physical and mental health of all children by guaranteeing that any vaccine will be available without cost as a factor and by retaining and strengthening the Affordable Care Act. To promote mental health, particularly in times of crisis, policymakers should work to reduce the student-to-school-counselor ratio in all school settings to levels recommended by mental health professionals.
Help families with children achieve financial stability and bolster their well-being by expanding access to unemployment insurance for part-time and gig economy workers, low-wage workers and students and by expanding child care access. Additionally, policymakers should eliminate barriers to accessing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). And beyond any temporary housing assistance programs aimed at heading off a foreclosure or eviction crisis, federal policymakers should expand the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, and increase the overall availability of public housing.
Ensure schools are better funded, more equitably funded and ready to meet the needs of students disparately affected by the pandemic by boosting school funding to protect against the economic impact of the pandemic, build maintenance-of-equity requirements into relief packages and address disparities in technology access at home and in the classroom.
Additional information is available at www.aecf.org.
About Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth – The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is an independent agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly. Its primary mission is to lead systems improvement for all children and families through data-driven advocacy, education and collaboration. Information on the agency is available at www.tn.gov/tccy.
About the Annie E. Casey Foundation – The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.