By Sabrina Bates
MVP Regional News Editor
Tennessee is seeing improvements as the number of children living in poverty is on the decline at a rate that has outpaced the nation, according to The State of the Child 2022 report recently released by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. Data is collected from the previous year by the TCCY in several categories – health, child welfare, youth justice and education – to paint an overall picture of child well-being across the state.
While the expansion of programs have helped lift families out of poverty across the nation, Tennessee families said they still struggle as food and housing costs continue to increase. According to the TCCY report, the Child Tax Credit lifted 2.91 million children out of poverty in 2021. Other programs like the third stimulus payment lifted 2.27 million children out of poverty and SNAP had the same impact on 891,000 children. Across the nation, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which considers these non-cash benefits, decreased from one in eight children in poverty in 2019 to one in 20 in 2021. Several Tennessee counties saw child poverty drop by 25% between 2019-2021.
The recent report also notes one in four Tennesseans are housing-cost burdened, spending at least 30% of their income on housing costs that include rent, mortgages, taxes and insurance. According to the data, 57% of those earning $50,000 or less; 67% of those earning under $35,000; and 78% of those earning $20,000 or less spent at least 30% of their income on housing last year. This was at the same time a shortage of affordable and available housing for extremely low-income renters increased to 127,102. The number of renters increased by 15,795.
The State of the Child 2022 report shows a slight increase in public school students (3.1%) living in unsheltered places, which include vehicles, parks, campgrounds, temporary campers and abandoned buildings. As a result, between 2017 and 2027, the health system in the United States will spend an expected $34.3 billion treating health issues arising in children from lack of stable housing.
Recent data shows the number of those with food insecurities from 2019 to 2021 decreased to one in eight children. From 2011 to 2013, the number was one in four. In September 2022, 23% of Tennessee households with children reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the previous week. During that same period, 53% reported having difficulty paying for usual expenses. Nationally, those figures were 14% and 47% respectively.
Tennessee is one of 12 states that still charges a tax on grocery items. The state has the third highest rate at 6.47%. Kansas has the highest tax rate on food items at 7.63%, followed by Mississippi with a 7% charge on grocery items.
Under Gov. Bill Lee, Tennesseans get a reprieve on grocery taxes in the month of August. According to state information, families saved on average $45 as a result of the tax-free month in 2022.
In the spring, the TCCY and Annie E. Casey Foundation are expected to release a county-by-county snapshot to coincide with The State of the Child 2022. Data is used to evaluate programs and determine the need for funding and other programs throughout the state to improve child well-being and Tennessee families.
For more information, visit tn.gov/tccy.