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Despite Ranking, Pandemic Clouds IA's Child Well-being Outlook

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Wednesday, June 23, 2021   

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowa gets some high marks in the latest 50-state report on children's wellbeing, but the annual findings show the pandemic is worsening racial disparities, with the state seeing declines in some areas even before the health crisis.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count Data Book analyzes how states stack up in such areas as education, health and economic factors for families with children. In mostly relying on 2019 data, Iowa ranks 9th overall.

Mike Owen, deputy director of the policy group Common Good Iowa, said people shouldn't read too much into that.

"Point-by-point, there are some bumps up and bumps down," Owen observed. "I don't think that the changes that we see for Iowa in this report [are] so markedly different that there are great things we could draw from."

For example, Iowa ranks 7th in economic well-being, but Owen noted before the crisis, Iowa still had more than 90,000 kids living in poverty. And post-COVID data in the report show families of color have experienced higher rates of food insecurity than Iowa's general population.

In education, Iowa lost ground in terms of three- and four-year-olds not enrolled in preschool, and fewer eighth-graders proficient in math.

Owen argued the results underscore the need for policymakers to ensure a more equitable recovery from the pandemic.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Foundation, said there's hope with the recent expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit, with monthly payments to qualifying households starting next month.

"For families with children under the age of six, it's $300 a month that those families will be receiving," Boissiere pointed out. "So, at a time when families are concerned with being able to pay their mortgage, or to pay their rent or to provide food for their families, it's a significant amount."

But she noted the expansion is for only one year, and advocates urged Congress to make it permanent.

Other areas of concern for Iowa in the report include child obesity rates, and households with children dealing with mental-health issues during the crisis.

Disclosure: Annie E. Casey Foundation contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Education, Juvenile Justice, and Welfare Reform. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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