Kids Count

Kids Count

Louisiana children are faring better in school and are less likely to live with parents who lack secure employment than they were a decade ago. They are also more likely to have health insurance, and Louisiana teens are less likely to become pregnant than they were in 2009. But Louisiana’s kids also have higher obesity rates and are more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty than their recent predecessors. And overall child outcomes in Louisiana remain dismal – 48th among the 50 states – according to the 2021 edition of the Kids Count Data Book, produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation with their Louisiana partner, Agenda for Children. 

Every child needs food, health care and safe and stable housing. Millions of households with children already lacked these necessities before the pandemic, and this economic and public health catastrophe brought millions more face-to-face with challenges ranging from lost health insurance and bare pantries to the threat of homelessness due to eviction or foreclosure. An additional area of concern: Students are completing a second academic year disrupted by COVID-19, undermining academic performance and altering post-high school plans.

The Advocate’s Charles Lussier reports that the data points in the rankings come from 2019 – before the Covid-19 pandemic – and that conditions for children likely grew worse in 2020. But it also fails to capture recent changes in federal law that bode well for the fight against child poverty. 

The expansion of the federal child tax credit, approved in March and set to go into effect in July, is expected to cut the child poverty rate in the United States by more than half. It will provide eligible parents $3,600 for each child under age 6 and $3,000 for each older child, up to age 18. The expanded credit is in effect only for a year, though, and it’s unclear whether Congress will extend it or make it permanent. Louisiana’s families will be among the biggest beneficiaries. Prior to the pandemic, 27% of the children in the state — 289,000 out more than a 1 million — lived in households with an income below the federal poverty line, a level that remained unchanged since 2010. 

Take this job and shove it
Americans are quitting low-paid, dead-end jobs in record numbers as the country continues to emerge from the Covid-19 economic doldrums. A record 649,000 retail workers gave notice in April, as people who have long been stuck on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder take time to re-evaluate their options and search for work that pays them better and offers opportunities for advancement. The Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai reports

Labor professors and economists say the pandemic also made it harder for the nation’s 15 million retail workers to find reliable child care and public transportation. But now that life is returning to normal, analysts say, workers have begun to realize they have options, capitalizing on the latest waves of hiring and government stimulus as catalyst for career change. Companies of all sizes, meanwhile, are offering a host of perks, from free appetizers to subsidized college courses, to attract and keep workers.

The big question, of course, is whether the changes underway in the low-wage economy, where companies are suddenly forced to compete for workers, will be permanent or just a post-pandemic blip. 

Medicaid enrollment surges
About 1 in every 4 Americans (and more than 1 in 3 Louisianans) now gets health coverage through Medicaid – a program that saw enrollment surge by more than 10 million since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The New York Times’ Sarah Kliff reports that enrollment grew at faster rates than in previous economic downturns, which could be due to an increase in sign-ups among low-income adults who were eligible for coverage but not enrolled. 

The spike in enrollment demonstrates Medicaid’s increasingly important role not just as a safety net, but also as a pillar of the American health system, with fully a quarter of the population getting coverage through it. … The Affordable Care Act transformed Medicaid from a targeted health care benefit meant to help certain groups — expectant mothers, for example, and those with disabilities — to a much wider program providing largely free coverage to most people below a certain income threshold. A notable exception is the 12 states — mostly in the South — that have declined to expand Medicaid under the A.C.A.

Rules in the Families First Act that prevent states from terminating Medicaid coverage during the ongoing public health emergency have also been essential to keeping people covered by Medicaid during the pandemic. Farah Erzouki and Jennifer Wagner of the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities explain what states can do to keep eligible people covered after the pandemic ends.

The Biden Administration recently notified states that the (federal Public Health Emergency, or PHE) will last at least through 2021 and that states will get 60 days advance notice before it ends. When the PHE ends, states will have to resume full renewals and other activities they have changed or suspended during the PHE. By carefully planning how to resume normal operations at the end of the PHE, states can reduce the risk that eligible people will lose coverage and decrease administrative burdens for state staff and enrollees.

Skimping on literacy funding
Louisiana legislators were eager to support a bill this spring that aims to provide tutoring, after-school programming and other services for children who struggle to read – a critical need in a state where only 43% of kindergarteners read on grade level. What they neglected to do was actually pay for the program that the bill creates – even in a year when lawmakers had enough cash available to sprinkle $85 million worth of pet projects throughout the state. The Advocate’s Will Sentell: 

“We have to establish this program before we can fund it,” state Rep. Scott McKnight, R-Baton Rouge, chief sponsor of the bill, told colleagues. “We hope we can get some money along the way.” Where it will come from remains a mystery. HB85 says the effort is “subject to appropriation,” – legislative shorthand for nothing happens until a funding source is found. The state is getting a gusher of federal stimulus money – nearly $4 billion from three rounds of aid since March, 2020. However, 90% of the dollars are left to the discretion of the state’s 69 school districts.

Number of the Day
72.4% – Personal income growth in Louisiana in the first quarter, measured on an annualized basis. The sharp growth is mainly due to stimulus payments made available through the American Rescue Plan Act (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis)