By Rachel Metz

Health

While confirmed COVID-19 cases among children are less common than among adults, nearly 29,000 DC children and youth had still contracted the disease as of late February 2022 when the District stopped reporting daily case counts with the breakdown by age.

Vaccinations: As of August 25, 2022 over a quarter (28%) of District 12-15 year olds, over half (57%) of 5-11 year olds, and 88% of 0-4 year olds had been vaccinated for COVID. That protection isn’t equitably distributed, though. While DC hasn’t published vaccination rates for children by ward since February, when those data were reported they showed stark disparities, with nearly all of 12-15 year olds living in ward 2 having been vaccinated at the end of 2021 compared to fewer than one in three ward 7 and 8 residents.

Of course, children and youth are also impacted when a parent, family member, teacher, or other caring adult gets sick. In a Fall 2021 questionnaire, half of District public school students surveyed said that since the beginning of the summer they experienced the loss of an adult they cared about.

And their family’s economic security and their educational opportunities have also been threatened by the pandemic.

Economic Justice

Loss of Income: While the 17% of DC households with children who, from June 1-July 11 2022 reported having lost employment income in the past month is an improvement compared to the nearly half of households with children who reported having lost income (since the pandemic began) in the first several months of the pandemic, it is clear that many families are still struggling economically. Families of color disproportionately continue to bear that burden: 20% of Black households reported having lost employment income in the last month compared to just 8% of white households.

Youth Unemployment: Between April and July 2020, thousands more young people received unemployment insurance as during the same period a year earlier. While during the pre-pandemic period an average of only 95 youth under age 22 and 288 youth ages 22-24 received unemployment insurance each month, during the early months of the pandemic 2,836 youth under ages 22 and 5,302 youth ages 22-24 received unemployment insurance. These numbers have decreased since that initial peak, but a shifting economy means we still must pay attention to the economic opportunities available to young people.

Housing Insecurity: Between June 1 and August 8 roughly 20 percent of DC renters with children said they were behind on rent payments, double the roughly 10 percent of renters without children who said the same.

Food Insecurity: Many Black and Latinx adults in households with children report sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the last week. Between June 1 and July 11, 2022 more than a third (37%) of Black households with children said this.

Educational Opportunities

Early Care & Education: The pandemic exacerbated the already strained situation for the vital but underpaid early learning workforce. 84% of child care centers who reported to a 2021 survey reported experiencing a staffing shortage (results were not reported for family child care homes). 73% of survey respondents identified low wages as the main recruitment barrier and 59% say that low wages are the most common reason that educators leave the field, followed by 14% who said lack of benefits. Recognizing the import of this looming crisis, the District made emergency grants available to child care providers using federal relief funds and temporarily increased reimbursement rates to providers for serving children enrolled in the childcare subsidy program. In August 2021, the DC Council voted to increase compensation for early educators, paid for by a new tax increase on the District’s highest earners. In March 2022 the DC’s Early Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force put out detailed recommendations about how to implement a statewide, publicly funded permanent early educator compensation program. Early childhood educators must apply for their supplemental payment by Sept. 20, 2022 – see https://osse.dc.gov/ecepayequity for more information.

Even as there’s been progress on pay for providers, the pandemic has continued to pose challenges. One out of five Districts adults living in homes with children under age 5 reported (from June 29-July 11, 2022) that in the past month children were unable to attend early care and education programs due to safety concerns.

Public School: A set of reports by EmpowerK12 showed that students learned less during spring 2020 and the 2020-21 school year than in prior years. One notable finding is that in grades K-2 only half of students demonstrated reading comprehension, an 18-percentage point drop compared to 2019 rates. Drops in early literacy proficiency were more likely to occur for students categorized as “at risk” and who live east of the river. In the spring 2022 semester the most recent report in that series showed that there are signs of academic recovery, but that recovery was slower for students designated as “at risk”, students with disabilities, and English learners.

During this time period some children didn’t engage in public education at all. While the number of white children in public pre-K stayed about the same during the pandemic, thousands fewer Black children enrolled in public pre-K this past school year compared to the 2019-20 school year. The number of Black children enrolled in pre-K dropped by 14%, the number of Latinx children dropped by 9%, while the number of white children dropped by only 2% (and actually increased in the 2020-21 school year even as the number of Black and Latinx children dropped that year). As we enter the first school year when 3 and 4 year olds can be vaccinated for COVID, will more Black and Latinx families send their kids to pre-K? And how will our school systems support kindergarten and first-grade teachers as they work to educate children coming to school with a wide range of levels of preparation?

Another key piece of preparation is the preparation of the physical school buildings, and there’s reason to think that the District has not done everything it should so that students can be safe and healthy at school.

Find more information about the impacts of COVID-19 measures in our data references section. For earlier data, starting just a couple of months into the pandemic, on the economic impacts of COVID-19, please contact Data and Research Manager Rachel Metz at rmetz@dckids.org.

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Rachel Metz is the Research and Data Manager of DC Action.