Child well-being in Illinois was looking up in 2019 compared with 2010, but advocates say the full impact of COVID-19 is yet to be seen, and has highlighted the need for strong supports. The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Book shows 16% of Illinois children were living in poverty prior to the pandemic, down from 2010, and just 4% of children lacked health insurance. But in the last year and a half, many more households lost income or health insurance. Bill Byrnes, KIDS COUNT Project Manager at Voices for Illinois Children, said bold policies are needed.
“Although children overall fared better, there were still some really significant racial and ethnic disparities across pretty much every single indicator,” Byrnes asserted.
According to the latest Census Bureau national survey, Black and Latino households with children reported far more concerns than white households on issues ranging from mental health and access to health insurance to ability to pay their rent or mortgage on time and put food on the table. Byrnes added the American Rescue Plan included an expansion of the child tax credit, from $2,000 annually, to up to $3,600 per child depending on their age, with payments starting in July.
“So we think that any policies that can get more money into people’s pockets will ultimately benefit families and their children as well,” Byrnes contended.
Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Foundation, urged policymakers to make the child tax credit permanent. She added children who grow up in poverty often have worse health outcomes.
“They live in substandard housing that has issues like mold and lead that go untreated,” Boissiere explained. “Lower-income families live in poorer neighborhoods that have poorer-resourced schools, so their education outcomes tend to be worse.”
Even before COVID-19 disrupted education, 14% of Illinois high school students were not graduating on time, and last fall more than 40% of Illinois families, where at least one person planned to pursue higher education, canceled their plans or reduced their class load.