Getty Images Aerial photo Downtown Baton Rouge Louisiana USA
Louisiana children rank near the bottom of the country in overall well-being, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book report, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The report “describes how children across the United States were faring before… the coronavirus pandemic,” as the latest available data used was from 2019. States’ rankings are calculated by analyzing how children fare in four categories: economic well-being, education, health and family and community.
Louisiana ranked 48th overall in child well-being. Only Mississippi and New Mexico fared worse.
“Even before the pandemic, Louisiana ranked 48th in overall child well-being, and all available data suggest that conditions have deteriorated since 2019 for many of our children and families,” said Teresa Falgoust, director of data and research at Agenda for Children, Louisiana’s member of the KIDS COUNT network, said in a news release. “As our state emerges from the pandemic, we need to make child well-being a top priority in all of our policies, from the state budget to housing policy.”
Louisiana’s challenges have long been a constant. Allison Plyer, a chief demographer at the Data Center, a nonprofit in New Orleans that analyzes data in Southeastern Louisiana, helped write Pandemic to Prosperity, a series of reports looking at the conditions in vulnerable communities — including those in the South. She said disasters, like the COVID-19 pandemic, “accelerate pre-existing trends.”
The report also noted that hunger, hopelessness and accessibility remain stressors for Louisiana families. A fifth of families with children reported food insecurity in March and 28% “reported feeling down, depressed or hopeless,’’ compared to a national average of 22%.
Said Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation: “The COVID-19 pandemic is the most extraordinary crisis to hit families in decades. Deliberate policy decisions can help them recover, and we’re already seeing the beginnings of that. Policymakers should use this moment to repair the damage the pandemic has caused — and to address long- standing inequities it has exacerbated.”
Before the pandemic, 27 percent — or 289,000 Louisiana children — were living in poverty.
The report said 19% of Louisiana children live in high-poverty areas, more than double the national rate of 9 percent. And nearly half of the state’s children live in a single-parent household.
“Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development,” the Kids Count report said. “It increases the likelihood that a child will be exposed to factors that can impair brain development and lead to poor academic, cognitive and health outcomes.”
Thirty-three percent — or 356,000 — of children’s parents lacked secure employment and 9 percent of teens were not in school and not working.
“The negative effects of poverty on kids can extend into their teenage years and young adulthood, as they are more likely to contend with issues such as teen pregnancy and failing to graduate from high school,” according to the report.
Those numbers are likely to have only risen since the pandemic, as unprecedented unemployment, and low unemployment benefits were not enough to cover basic living expenses in any Southern state except Kentucky, where the standard monthly unemployment payout is $400 higher than the next highest Southern state, according to the Pandemic to Prosperity report.
Louisiana has one of the lowest weekly unemployment benefits in the nation at $247, which will rise by $28 next year. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he will likely end the $300 federal supplement at the end of July.
Seventy-four percent of Louisiana’s 4th graders weren’t proficient in reading and 77 percent of Louisiana’s 8th graders weren’t proficient in math, and it is unknown how much those numbers have changed since the pandemic sent students from in-person classrooms to virtual ones.
“Children who reach fourth grade without being able to read proficiently are more likely to struggle academically and eventually drop out of school,” the Kids Count report said. “Low reading proficiency also can reduce earning potential and chances for career success as adults.”
The report also noted that just 20 percent of Louisiana high schoolers graduated on time in 2019.
Thirty-five percent of Louisiana children were obese in 2019, and it is unknown how much those numbers have increased as families became more sedentary after stay-at-home orders and lockdowns during the pandemic.
“Children who struggle with their weight are at higher risk for a range of health problems, including asthma, heart disease, diabetes and cancer,” according to the report. “They are also more likely to experience social and emotional difficulties.”
Thirty-six of every 100,000 Louisiana children died in 2019 compared to 25 of 100,000 nationwide. The Kids Count report says the child death rate “reflects a broad array of factors: physical and mental health; access to health care; community issues; use of safety practices; and, especially for younger children, the level of adult supervision.”
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