Lessons from the First Year of the Pandemic: Key Policies Made a Difference for Kids

We have the tools to fight poverty, and they work.

By: Vikki Crouse | April 2022

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As North Carolina families struggle with increasing grocery and gas prices, most of the programs that helped low-income families keep their homes and keep food on the table during the pandemic are expiring. New data from NC Child’s County Data Cards shows that pandemic-era policies buffered children against some of the worst impacts of poverty.

The data show that we do not have to accept child poverty as a given. We have the tools to fight poverty, and they work.

This week, NC Child released its annual County Data Cards, highlighting key indicators of child well-being that elected officials should track, and respond to, in their communities.

View the 2022 County Data Cards.

Greater family economic security is within reach

Children living in financially secure families are more likely to succeed in school and stay healthy. Before the pandemic, 2 out of 5 (44.5%) North Carolina children lived in poor or low-income households. In 2020, (the latest full year with available data), childhood poverty slightly decreased to 42.8% of NC children living in poor or low-income homes. This is despite widespread losses of jobs and income in 2020, especially for those in low-wage jobs – showing how important policies like child stimulus checks and expanded SNAP benefits were to keeping families financially secure.

Across the state, children most at risk of living in poor or low-income homes include:

  • Black and Latinx children. Years of barriers to family economic mobility continue to hold back opportunity from many Black and Latinx children;
  • Children under age 6, who are more likely to be born to parents who are younger and less financially established; and
  • Children in rural counties, where low incomes are often compounded by limited access to core needs like transportation and health care.

In 2020 and 2021, Congress put forward several relief packages that had a major impact in helping families withstand loss of jobs and income. These policies – especially the one-year expansion of the Child Tax Credit – reduced child poverty to historically low levels in 2021, according to weekly data that was collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. This showed that child poverty is a problem we have the power to solve.

Health coverage remained stable in the first year of the pandemic

Health coverage is key for family financial stability, and for children’s healthy development. Despite widespread job losses in 2020 – including loss of employer-sponsored health insurance for many – the rate of children without health insurance remained fairly stable across the state at 5.3%. Medicaid and other public insurance programs played a critical role in protecting health coverage for children, and financial stability for families.

Statewide, 12% of adults had no health insurance in 2020 – including many parents and caregivers that children rely on to care for them.*

To keep people covered, Congress has put forward major incentives for states like North Carolina to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income adults. The state legislature is considering Medicaid expansion now.

Using every tool to support families experiencing hardship

Thanks to a timely federal and state response, our country saw the shortest recession on record. Key policies including the expanded Child Tax Credit, increased food assistance benefits, uninterrupted health insurance coverage, and increased rental assistance helped protect families from the harshest impacts of the pandemic. These tools have the potential to solve child poverty. We need our elected leaders to keep moving forward with policies that work.




*An earlier version of this article erroneously stated the percentage of unemployed adults as 14%.