(The Center Square) – A new report says the well-being of children in Illinois is much improved over the past decade, but concerns remain about the pandemic could affect students long term.
The Kids Count Data Book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows 16% of Illinois youth were living in poverty last year, down three points from 2010.
“The general overarching good news is that children were improving a lot in terms of poverty, in terms of the percentage of people who are overburdened by housing costs, the percentage of children who did not have health insurance,” Illinois Kids Count Project Manager Bill Byrnes said.
When it comes to education, the report indicates there are fewer Illinois fourth-graders who are not proficient at reading and fewer eighth-graders who are not proficient at math.
“I think, by and large, what we’re seeing is just a gradual improvement in people’s economic situations as we’ve recovered from what was basically the worst economic recession since the great depression,” Byrnes said.
Despite the good news, there’s still deep concern about the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children.
“We’re not going to know for some time what COVID has done to Illinois and the nation at large,” Byrnes said. “But when the 2020 data start coming out, we fully expect to see the gains that children made over the last decade to have either stalled or reversed due to just everything that’s been going on with the pandemic.”
The report also highlights some significant racial and ethnic disparities across virtually every single indicator, both in Illinois and across the country.
The American Rescue Plan included an expansion of the child tax credit to up to $3,600 per child, with monthly payments starting in July for many families.
“The tax credit payments are projected essentially to decrease child poverty throughout the nation by about half,” Byrnes said. “Our expectation and our hope is that this is going to be a little extra money in people’s pockets. In many cases that is all people actually need to get by.”
At the state level, the report mentions a few policy recommendations, including acting to index Illinois’ $15 minimum wage to inflation.
“We also think the state should do more to ensure more affordable housing for people,” Byrnes said. “High housing costs are a significant issue in Illinois. We want to make sure that people can actually be able to afford housing in safe and healthy communities.”
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a nonprofit focused to developing a brighter future for children with respect to their educational, economic, social and health outcomes, according to its website.