As we begin to pick up the pieces left in the wake of the pandemic and recession, the focus must remain on an equitable, long-term recovery. A new report from KIDS COUNT, coupled with U.S. Census Bureau survey data, tells us that we still have a long way to go in securing better futures for Florida’s children.
The annual KIDS COUNT report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation provides state-by-state comparisons of child well-being in four areas. This year, Florida was ranked 35th overall, which is unchanged from 2020. In the domain scores, Florida’s highest ranking was in education (12th), followed by health (31st), and family and community (32nd). Florida has consistently ranked lowest in the economic domain, coming in at 45th.
The rankings, based on 2019 data, do indicate some improvements in child well-being heading into the pandemic. Under the “economic well-being” purview, the share of children living in poverty fell from 24 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2018. Additionally, as indicated in the education domain, there were more eighth-graders demonstrating proficiency in math and more graduating from high school in 2019 than at the end of the Great Recession.
But we also know that pre-COVID there were 343,000 children without health insurance in Florida. And while the percentage of children living in high poverty areas fell from 12.4 percent in 2008-12 to 8.4 percent in 2019, 352,000 children were still living in extremely impoverished and under-resourced communities, facing a much greater likelihood of academic challenges, health risks, and other obstacles.
Results from the biweekly U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse survey help provide a current snapshot of how Florida children and families are faring. According to survey data reported as of March 2021, 49 percent of Florida households with children reported losing employment income since March 2020. Almost a third of Florida households with children reported that they are not caught up on rent or mortgage and are very or extremely likely to have to leave their home due to eviction or foreclosure within two months.
Taking the two data sources together, we know that even before COVID-19, there was still a large share of children who were living in poverty, who were struggling academically or who lacked health insurance, and that the pandemic seriously weakened families’ ability to support themselves and educate their children.
There is a step that Congress can take right now to drastically improve child-being: make permanent the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) improvements in the American Rescue Plan Act. To improve child well-being for all of Florida’s children, Congress must also consider restoring the CTC for Dreamers — immigrant children without Social Security Numbers — 91,400 of whom in Florida are losing out on the CTC expansion in 2021.
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It’s time to start rebuilding our communities, and that starts with making bold investments in Florida families and children.
Norín Dollard is a research assistant professor and director of Florida KIDS COUNT in the Department of Child and Family Studies, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences at the University of South Florida. Sadaf Knight is CEO of the nonprofit Florida Policy Institute. This column was submitted as part of a partnership with the Scholar Strategy Network.