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 the end of 2021 DC’s 12-15 year olds faced stark disparities in their COVID vaccination rates, with nearly all of those living in ward 2 having been vaccinated compared to fewer than one in three ward 7 and 8 residents. Starting in February 2022 DC no longer publishes vaccination coverage data specifically for children and youth, making it impossible to easily see whether those disparities – or disparities among younger children just starting to appear in data at the end of 2021 – have improved.

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 26% of DC households with children who, from December 29 2021 through February 7 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: 32% of Black households and 41% of Latinx households reported having lost employment income in the last month..

Roughly 15,000 excluded workers, primarily our undocumented parents and residents, have or will soon see a one-time payment of $3,000 after not receiving unemployment benefits during the pandemic. This is the direct result of their tireless organizing efforts that pushed the DC Council to add an extra $5 million to the fund, growing it to $41 million. While still far short of what they demanded, they showed that grassroots organizing efforts produce real change for working families.

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: Roughly 18 percent of DC renters with children said they have no or only slight confidence in their ability to make next month’s rent or were deferring their payment between March 2 and April 11. While this is a definite improvement compared to the nearly half of renters with children who said this a few months prior, it’s still more than the roughly 11% 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 December 29, 2021 and February 7, 2022 roughly one in four Black and Latinx households with children said this..

Educational Opportunities

Early Care & Education Access: 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.

As the pandemic continues, providers and families have faced ongoing challenges. Roughly half of Districts adults living in homes with children under age 5 reported (from March 2-March 14, 2022) that in the past month children were unable to attend early care and education programs due to safety concerns.

Public School:
Distance learning posed challenges for many students and educators. In looking at how much students learned during distance learning in spring 2020 and the 2020-21 school year, a pair of reports by EmpowerK12 showed that students learned less 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 grades 3-8, students overall are behind in both math and language arts, with “at-risk” students having experienced bigger drops. One group whose education has been of particular concern during the pandemic is students with disabilities.

One group whose education has been of particular concern during the pandemic is students with disabilities. In June 2021 Children’s Law Center sent a survey to clients served by its Medical Legal Partnerships since 2019 (a program in which legal professionals “work side-by-side with pediatricians to provide legal assistance to resolve the root causes of a child’s health problem”). CLC shared some of those results in testimony at a July 2021 DC Council hearing on school re-opening: “For parents of children with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), we learned 44% of students with disabilities reported missing some or all of their IEP services during the pandemic. For many students, virtual learning was simply not conducive to their needs. Parents also noted extreme delays in evaluations and IEP updates.” During this time period some students weren’t able to engage in education at all. In mid-fall 2020 public schools had hundreds fewer students – including over 700 fewer English learners – enrolled than at the same time the previous year. Since enrollment had been projected to increase by several thousand that school year, the actual decline is larger, with bigger declines for DCPS than for charter schools and for the youngest learners. There were more than 2,200 fewer children in pre-K through first grade than had been projected, with the steepest decline – 15% fewer children than expected – in PK3. And students with disabilities in the DC Jail filed a lawsuit against DC Public Schools and the State Superintendent of Education claiming that they hadn’t offered any virtual or in-person instruction to students in custody since the pandemic began, only handing them paper worksheets with no teacher around. While enrollment is up in the 2021-22 school year, the long-term impact of missed schooling remains to be seen.

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.