Kids Count COVID-19 Analysis Points To Illinois' Racial Inequties

Dec 15, 2020

Measures of child well-being have declined during the last 10 months as the COVID-19 pandemic has raged. But those economic, health and educational effects have taken the greatest toll on children from Black and Brown families.

A new 50-state report published this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count program quantified the damage. Kids Count analyzes surveys of families compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It's really important to remember that although the pandemic has affected everyone, it affects different groups differently depending on their race and ethnicity,” said Bill Byrnes, Kids Count project manager for Voices for Illinois Children.

For example, Black Illinoisans are overrepresented in COVID-related deaths in the state and nation, he said.

"People living in poverty, especially those segregated by both race and class, they face a significant number of health problems because of their relationship with poverty,” Byrnes said.

Poverty is associated with higher rates of chronic disease like hypertension, diabetes and asthma, which Byrnes pointed out "is particularly problematic in the middle of a respiratory pandemic."

Other issues like access to health insurance have been exacerbated by the pandemic as families have lost health coverage tied to jobs as unemployment has soared since March. But not having healthcare coverage is also a risk factor for poor health outcomes.

“A lot of these problems that we're seeing during the pandemic were already there before the pandemic even started," Byrnes said. "It’s just the pandemic took those problems and exacerbated them and accelerated them.”

About a quarter of Black families in Illinois reported not knowing whether they would have enough food to eat in a given week, as opposed to 10 percent of white families. Meanwhile, about a third of Black families feared being unable to make mortgage or rent payments. The rate for white families was only 15 percent.

Byrnes said data from the organization Feeding America showed the projected child food insecurity rate for 2020 will be about 22%. That's a significant increase for the child food insecurity rate for from two years ago, when it was about 12.7%.

Byrnes said child food insecurity is particularly concentrated in southern Illinois.

“We need to also focus relief on the areas and populations that need them the most, particularly people of color, people living in poverty and…people living in rural areas who might not have as much access to healthcare.”

Meanwhile, about a fifth of white Illinoisans reported feeling depressed or hopeless. The numbers were lower for Black and LatinX families.

“The pandemic has really left no group untouched, and we need to get people more resources so they can make ends meet, whether those are financial resources, emotional resources, so forth and so on," Byrnes said.