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Pandemic Concerns Surround WI Child Well-Being Report

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Monday, June 21, 2021   

MADISON, Wis. -- Before the pandemic, Wisconsin was mostly faring well in providing positive outcomes for children, but an annual wellbeing report said it appears the crisis disrupted progress, with racial disparities still a major concern.

The latest Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks the state 10th overall in the U.S. when measuring key indicators, which is similar to the previous report.

Erica Nelson, Kids Count and Race to Equity project director for Kids Forward, said the findings mostly include 2019 data, while noting Wisconsin wasn't seeing major progress, but still holding its own. The post-pandemic numbers in the report do show struggles, and she emphasized that cannot be forgotten, even as the crisis loosens its grip.

"If we just sort of go back to pre-pandemic levels of investment in children and families, I don't know if that's going to do for us what we need as a state in the future," Nelson asserted.

Pre-COVID, the report said 168,000 Wisconsin children were living in poverty. Census Pulse Survey data detailed in the findings showed after the crisis started, families with children dealing with food insecurity were at 11%.

That improved over the past year, but Nelson said getting back on track for families of color won't be as easy. Hunger issues for African American families were four times higher.

Nelson argued those findings are why policymakers need to be more aggressive in helping marginalized families, including minimum-wage hikes. With the American Rescue Plan, the Child Tax Credit was significantly expanded.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Foundation, said it puts money in the hands of low-income families, starting this summer.

"For families with children under the age of six, it's $300 a month that those families will be receiving," Boissiere observed. "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 it's only a one-year expansion, and advocates are urging Congress to make it permanent.

Another key finding from the Kids Count report showed an estimated 275,000 children in Wisconsin were living in families with a high housing cost burden.

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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