Zero to Three released their annual State of Babies Yearbook for 2021. The news is not good.
As expected, COVID-19 had a dire impact on the health and well-being of infants and toddlers, worsening systemic inequities that have persisted for generations. The report makes clear that many of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens are not getting the support they need to thrive, and that racial and economic inequalities begin even before birth. The pandemic has made these harsh realities even worse — especially for babies of color.
Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities
The State of Babies Yearbook 2021 study found that regardless of where babies are born their families continue to juggle economic and child care needs amidst threadbare systems of support. As with the State of Babies Yearbook 2020 study, this is particularly true for people of color and other marginalized communities.
Zero to Three’s Chief Policy Officer Myra Jones-Taylor said in a press release, “[i]n particular, Black and Brown babies and babies in families with low incomes continue to face greater barriers due to significant and systemic disparities.” Here’s how it breaks down.
- Low income & poverty: As many as 40% of infants and toddlers lived in low-income families (less than $54,000 for a family of four) pre-COVID-19 with nearly 19% of the nation’s 11.5 million babies living in outright poverty. The percentages of babies among American Indian/Alaskan Native and Black infants and toddlers was nearly double the national average.
- Maternal mortality: Maternal mortality occurred at a rate of 17 deaths per 100,000 live births nationally. The maternal mortality rate among Black women was significantly higher than the national average at 37 deaths per 100,000 live births.
- Preterm birth: As many as 1 in 10 babies are born preterm, but the preterm birth rate for Black infants is significantly higher at 14%.
The Effects of COVID-19
The report also highlighted how COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown exacerbated existing issues facing young children and their families in this country. Zero to Three’s Chief Policy Officer Myra Jones-Taylor explained this was “[b]ecause our nation has ignored the needs of young children for decades, COVID-19 was free to wreak havoc on the conditions that contribute to our babies’ development and our families’ stability.”
Unsurprisingly, the harshest effects of the pandemic on the health and welfare of children was felt by low-income families. These effects are most easily illustrated by focusing on three key areas.
- Child care access: More than half of families surveyed reported using some form of non-parental child care for their infant and toddler prior to the pandemic, but that number dropped to around 26% in early April 2020, when more than 60% of child care centers across the center shut down and required some families to quickly find alternate solutions.
- Income instability: More than half of families who reported having had low incomes pre-COVID-19 took a hard hit economically during the pandemic. Among families with young children, 42.2% have experienced a decrease in income, 33.9% experienced a decrease in employment, and 26.6% are unemployed, temporarily out of work, or furloughed.
- Food insecurity: Before the pandemic, Census data showed that more than 1 in 7 households with infants and toddlers had low or very low food insecurity. As a result of COVID-19, 26% of families have reported high food insecurity, 53% of families with low income reported food insecurity, and Black and Latinx families were more likely to encounter food insecurity than the average family, at 35% and 34% respectively.
What We Need to Do
Zero to Three is pushing Congress and state leaders to seize the opportunity to create forward-looking, family-centered policies to address the underlying issues.
“It’s long past time that we end this painful cycle,” Jones-Taylor insists. “The status quo before COVID-19 was unacceptable, and as we build back, we need to be better than before. We need our leaders at every level – local, state, and federal – to put in place bold, permanent policies that will address these barriers and ensure all children have a strong start in life.”
Some of the policies that Zero to Three supports are:
- Making the expanded Child Tax Credit permanent and establishing a minimum wage of $15 per hour.
- Enacting comprehensive paid family leave policies that promote bonding between parents and babies and enable workers to care for their own and family members’ extended health needs.
- Extending Medicaid coverage for mothers and babies — for women through 12 months postpartum and all children until age three — and ensuring coverage of infant and early childhood mental health services for babies and caregivers.
- Building the world-class child care system families and early educators deserve, enacting a comprehensive program that places quality care within reach of all working families — particularly those with low and moderate-income — and compensating early educators for the highly skilled work they do.
About State of Babies Yearbook 2021
Zero to Three is the nation’s leading early childhood nonprofit dedicated to the health and well-being of babies and toddlers. For the third year straight, the organization has looked at every state in the United States and the District of Columbia to examine is a baby’s birth location impacts the course of their life.
The State of Babies Yearbook compiles more than 60 indicators, specifically for children ages zero to three, to measure progress good health, strong families, and positive early learning experiences. The data is broken down by race/ethnicity, income, and rural/urban areas to look at the disparities that can exist even within states whose babies, on average, are doing well. The 2021 Yearbook supplemented their research with data from the RAPID-EC Household Survey collected during the pandemic to show how the crisis has and continues to affect families with young children.