Save the Children recently released the first ever analysis and ranking of how each county in America protects and provides for its children. The report revealed that the most disadvantaged counties are mostly comprised of communities of color, and nearly all are rural, poor, and concentrated in the South. The rankings are based on four factors that cut childhood short: hunger, dropping out of school, teenage pregnancy, and early death due to poor health, accident, murder, or suicide.
According to the report, of the more than 2,600 counties examined, three-quarters contain non-white majority populations, two-thirds are in the South, and more than 90 percent of the bottom-ranked counties are rural. Millions of children living in these bottom-ranked counties are dying at rates up to 5 times of those in the highest ranked counties in the same state. They’re also up to 3 times more likely to struggle with hunger, 14 times more likely to drop out of highschool, and girls are 26 times more likely to get pregnant in their teens.
The report also ranks all 50 states based on five factors that cause children to miss out on childhood: hunger, dropping out of school, teenage pregnancy, infant death, and child deaths by homicide and suicide. New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa are the best states for childhood, respectively, while Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas are the most challenging states for kids.
These distressing stats underscore the need for greater investments in programs that improve access to affordable, reliable, and quality early learning and care and are proven to dramatically improve opportunities for young children. Unfortunately, families are struggling to access high-quality child care as nearly 90 percent of children who are eligible for federal programs do not receive it because there is a lack of federal funding and half of Americans lived in child care deserts. These problems are only going to be exacerbated by the mass closures of child care providers and education centers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
We know that children are born learning, and having quality early learning and care in the first five years prepares children to succeed in school, earn higher wages, and live healthier lives, and makes working families more economically secure. The data collected by Save the Children and other advocacy partners paint a clear picture for policymakers in Washington, especially during these uncertain times, early learning and child care programs need dedicated, significant federal resources to provide high-quality education to young children in underserved communities and to ensure those child care providers and educators struggling to keep their doors open during and after this pandemic are able to continue serving their communities as parents return to work.