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Delaware kids living in poverty will be hurt further by the coronavirus, researchers say

The 25th annual Kids Count Fact Book shows more than 12% of Delaware children live in poverty, about the same as 25 years ago. (Courtesy Kids Count in Delaware)

The 25th annual Kids Count Fact Book shows more than 12% of Delaware children live in poverty, about the same as 25 years ago. (Courtesy Kids Count in Delaware)

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For the past 25 years, the Kids Count Fact Book has compiled statistics on child well-being in Delaware to guide the state and other agencies working closely with youth.

Even though this year’s annual report was assembled before the coronavirus started spreading in Delaware, the impact the virus will have on kids is obvious to researchers.

“Too many children and families were struggling to survive economically before this pandemic, now many more will face devastating hardship and instability, unsure how they will afford food, housing, and healthcare,” said Janice Barlow, director of the Kids Count in Delaware Center. “We knew that vulnerabilities existed in many communities, and now in the midst of a public health crisis, we see how devastating they can be on a whole new scale.”

Because of Delaware’s small size, some statistics are calculated over several years to get the proper sampling size. For instance, in 2017-2019, Delaware’s uninsured rate for kids younger than 17 hit a record low of 4.9%.

But Barlow said the rate of uninsured kids is again increasing. That’s not good for those kids and their families now facing a pandemic, and not just because they’re at risk of getting the virus. They also could miss out on important, preventive health care.

“When health systems are overwhelmed, deaths from vaccine-preventable and treatable conditions increase dramatically,” Barlow said.

She said during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa, health system failures meant combined deaths from measles, malaria, HIV and tuberculosis were more than those caused by Ebola.

The percentage of children living in poverty has returned to around the same place it was over the past 25 years after spiking in the 2000’s. Between 1993-1995, 12.5% of kids were living in poverty in Delaware. The most recent rate was 12.8% in 2017-2019. That’s down from a high of 21.2% in 2012-2014, and it’s the state’s lowest child poverty rate since 2004-2006.

Barlow said the virus and subsequent stay-at-home orders have revealed just how much our individual economic success is interconnected to the health and well-being of our neighbors.

“The current crisis lays bare that early care and education helps keep Delaware’s economic engine running,” she said. “When properly working, the early care and education system ensures that employers have a robust, stable workforce from which to draw talent.”

In 2017, one in six Delaware kids lived in households that experienced food insecurity. The USDA defines food insecurity as not always having access to enough food for an active, healthy life. With schools closed, kids have less access to meal programs designed to alleviate that lack of access to nutritious meals.

The Kids Count book is put together with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the state of Delaware. Kids Count in Delaware is housed in the Center for Community Research and Service at the University of Delaware.

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