By Lola Duffort/VTDigger
Vermont ranks fourth in the nation for overall child wellbeing, according to Kids Count, an annual 50-state report produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an influential national child welfare nonprofit.
The foundation used 16 indicators across four domains — economic wellbeing, education, health, and family and community context — to come up with its rankings.
The Green Mountain State made the greatest gains in economic wellbeing. Vermont had the second-lowest child poverty rate in the country. In 2019, only 11,000 kids in the state were living in households below the poverty line, down from 21,000 in 2010. Still, one in four Vermont children lived in households where no parent had year-round, full-time employment, according to the report.
In education, the report shows mixed results. Vermont, which passed a universal prekindergarten law in 2014, was third in the nation for the number of 3- and 4-year-olds attending preschool, with 64% enrolled between 2017 and 2019. But high school graduation rates and test scores sagged.
Vermont’s ranking is based on pre-Covid data, largely from 2019. But the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s data center also includes survey data collected during the pandemic from the U.S. Census.
The Census’ Pulse Household Survey data repeatedly shows Vermont doing much better, on average, than the rest of the country, particularly when it comes to housing and food security, two areas in which the state invested heavily during its Covid-19 response. But it also reveals steep racial disparities.
In email surveys conducted between April and December of 2020 by the Census Bureau, 12% of Vermont households reported having “little or no confidence” in their ability to make rent or mortgage payments. Nationally, 22% of surveyed households reported such difficulties.
But the difference between white and BIPOC households was stark. While only 11% of white households surveyed reported trouble paying rent or their mortgage, 32% of Asian households, 23% of Black households and 19% of Latino or Hispanic households did.
“Despite the tremendous efforts that went into [housing and food], it’s still clearly not an equitable situation,” said Sarah Teel, research director for Voices for Vermont’s Children, which partners with the Annie E. Casey Foundation for the annual report.
The foundation historically pairs its annual report with recommendations for investments in the social safety net. The headline advice this year? That Congress make permanent the expansion of the child tax credit included in the American Rescue Plan Act, the Covid-19 relief package President Joe Biden signed in March.
“The recent federal actions taken toward economic protection are expected to cut the child poverty rate in half in the next year,” said Michelle Fay, executive director of Voices for Vermont’s Children. “With Vermont in a relatively strong position already, we could go even further toward eliminating child poverty with targeted state investments.”
The expanded credit will lift an estimated 4,000 Vermont children out of poverty, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Washington think tank. Over 100,000 Vermonters under 18 will benefit from the expansion, roughly 30,000 lived in households that were not previously eligible for the full credit.