New survey data taken during the pandemic offers a clear picture of how Tennessee kids and families are faring. Tennessee ranks 36th in the nation when it comes to overall child well-being, according to the 2021 Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Richard Kennedy, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Families, said despite the bottom ranking, the state has made strides with the number of children living in households with an income below the poverty line decreasing by 23% over the past decade.
As the pandemic ebbs and the economy starts to see signs of a bounce back, he said he believes it’s critical the state strengthen support for children and families.
“We have kind of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to look at some of those systemic issues that have plagued our state and that have resulted in some of the outcomes that we have,” said Kennedy, “and really work to change that culture and improve outcomes for the next generation or future generations of Tennesseans.”
Housing affordability is among one of those systemic issues. The report found that during the pandemic, in 2020, more than 20% of adults in Tennessee with children had little to no confidence in their ability to pay their next mortgage or rent payment.
However, by last March, this figure had fallen to 13%, suggesting the beginnings of a recovery.
Kennedy noted that disparities persist, with 26% of Black Tennesseans reporting a lack of confidence in paying the rent or mortgage in March.
He said he also believes Congress should make the expansion of the child tax credit permanent.Leslie Boissiere, vice president for external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, explained both state and federal child tax credits are critical to eliminating structural inequities in the tax code.
“We are excited and grateful that lawmakers passed the expansion,” said Boissiere. “And we’re calling on them to make that expansion permanent. We’d like to ensure that we don’t have the largest ever one-year reduction in the number of children who live in poverty followed immediately by the largest-ever one-year increase.”
She said more than half of Black children historically have been ineligible for the full Child Tax Credit because their household incomes are too low, compared with less than 25% of White children.