In-Depth Data Show Triple Crisis Facing NY State Kids: Public Health, Poverty and Racial Inequity

Press Releases

January 11, 2021

More Than 20% of Children Live in Poverty in One Third of New York State Counties

January 11, 2021 –– Today, Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York (CCC) released Child and Family Well-being in New York State: Ranking Risks Across 62 Counties,” a first-of-its-kind analysis of the barriers to well-being children and families face in each county of New York State.

The study examines county-level data across six domains of well-being and reveals that far too many children across New York State experience poverty, housing insecurity, health risks, educational opportunity gaps, and other conditions that challenge their right to thrive and live healthy productive lives. This analysis leverages the most recent data available for all indicators at the county level to provide context of troubling risk factors that existed prior to the pandemic.

According to the analysis, more than 800,000 New York children were living in poverty, more than 900,000 households were severely rent burdened, and more than 500,000 3rd through 8th graders did not score proficiently in ELA or Math. In addition, over 46,000 teens aged 16-19 were not enrolled in school nor in the labor force. The identification of risk factors like these is ever more critical now as COVID-19, the economic fallout and race-based discrimination are heightening needs and threatening irreparable harm to New York’s children and families. As state leaders make decisions in the coming weeks about the 2021 state budget and the long-term plans for pandemic recovery, the report draws attention to risk factors that must be addressed to promote an equitable recovery for children and families across New York State.

“This report makes clear that far too many of New York’s children and families confront profound and multiple barriers to their well-being with risk factors present in counties across the state, upstate and down. As COVID-19 has exacerbated risk factors, a successful recovery is urgently dependent on forthcoming federal stimulus as well as the policy, budget and legislative decisions that will be made in the coming weeks and months by New York’s Governor and State Legislature,” said Jennifer March, executive director at CCC.

“This first of its kind statewide report creates a composite index of risk factors across New York State’s 62 counties. We examine risk factors across distinct domains and measure where they cluster because the presence of multiple risk factors can have a profound and detrimental impact on child and family well-being,” said Bijan Kimiagar, associate executive director for research at CCC. “It is critical that we leverage the data presented in this index to advance both universal and targeted efforts that promote equity and improve child and family well-being.”

According to CCC’s analysis, The Bronx stands out as the sole county in the highest risk category overall, as well as in multiple domains (Economic Security, Housing, Education, and Family & Community).  In addition, several counties outside of New York City fall in the moderate risk category for the overall composite index while also falling in the highest risk category for certain domains, including Oswego, Montgomery, Franklin, Chautauqua, Chemung, Yates and Fulton.

Key findings for each domain include:

  • Economic Security
    • A total of 835,815 children statewide live in households below the Federal Poverty Level.
    • In nearly all counties that have child poverty rates above the state average (20.6%), more than 90% of families with children have one or both parents in the labor force.
  • Housing
    • In New York State, 43% of the population are renters, and 27% of these households pay more than half of their income on rent, affecting an estimated 915,370 people.
    • In 26 counties, more than a quarter of households spend more than half of their income on rent.
  • Health
    • The rate of uninsured children is 2.4% statewide, but several counties — including Allegany (8.5%), Seneca (14.4%) and Yates (37.9%) — have double or triple this threshold.
  • Education
    • Only five counties have Math pass rates above about 50%, and only six counties have ELA pass rates above 50%. In three counties — Franklin, Sullivan and Seneca — fewer than 30% of students meet ELA standards.
    • Counties across the state struggle with early education enrollment, with 33 counties having fewer than 50% of 3 and 4-year-olds enrolled.
  • Youth
    • In 25 counties, the percent of teens who are not in school and not in the labor force exceed the New York State average of 4.7%, with six counties exceeding 10% of teens.
    • 21 counties have rates of youth unemployment exceeding the state average of 12%, and some counties (Bronx and Franklin) have youth unemployment rates exceeding 20%.
  • Family and Community
    • In two-thirds of all state counties, the number of children living in single parent households exceeds the national average. These houses face greater challenges to economic stability.

“The data reveal the widespread risks to child and family well-being that are exacerbated now by the pandemic — including rising parental unemployment, decreased engagement in health care, social isolation, and inequitable distance learning, among others. The situation for children and families across the state is grave and requires a comprehensive response,” said Sophia Halkitis, data analyst at CCC.

If New York State is to effectively promote recovery, CCC urges the Governor and State Legislature to enact a number of legislative and policy solutions, including the following recommendations:

  • Set concrete targets on child poverty reduction and measure legislative and budgetary proposals in relation to their impact on poverty reduction.
  • Invest in a robust statewide rent subsidy and maintain and create affordable housing units for families with children.
  • Ensure all children have continuous health care coverage and invest in programs essential to child development and maternal well-being.
  • Support and create a robust behavioral health care continuum bringing behavioral health care to early care and school settings.
  • Increase state investments in child care subsidies and Pre-Kindergarten.
  • Protect and expand state investments in foundation aid, after school and community school funding.
  • Protect and expand state investments in summer youth employment.
  • Protect and expand state investments in child abuse and neglect prevention and food security programs.
  • Deepen and expand the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and reform the Empire State Child Credit to include a robust credit for children under four years of age.

See the full list of legislative and policy recommendations here.

CCC is an independent, nonpartisan child advocacy organization that leverages data on the well-being of children and families to inform budgetary, legislative and programmatic decisions made at the federal, state, and local level. By measuring 18 indicators across six domains of well-being (economic security, housing, health, education, youth, and family and community), CCC’s Child and Family Well-being Index is designed to illustrate where risk factors cluster and draw attention to counties across the state where barriers to child and family well-being must be addressed.

Advocates from across the state joined CCC in calling for action by state and federal leaders to respond to the needs of children and families as illustrated in the study:

“Westchester Children’s Association (WCA) knows the importance of accurate, timely data in shaping priorities and policies for all children and families, and salutes CCC’s Child and Family Well-being Index,” said Allison Lake, executive director of Westchester Children’s Association. “Behind every data point is a person and we are eager to leverage key local data with the Index to communicate and improve outcomes in a county as economically and racially diverse as Westchester. WCA looks forward to working with CCC and state partners on this agenda.”

“The well-being of children in Monroe County is disturbingly low. Even more, it hides the enormous inequities between children, especially children of color living in Rochester versus the rest of Monroe County,” said Larry Marx, CEO of The Children’s Agenda, a policy advocacy group in Rochester, NY.  “Rochester has the  worst child poverty rate of communities our size nationwide, and 10,000 more Monroe County children plunged into poverty during the pandemic. The public policy choices New York State makes this year – or fails to make – on support for child care, tax credits for low-income families, housing and transportation will determine the future of our community and the next generation.”

“The Child and Family Well-being Index sheds light on the immense needs facing New York’s children and families, who, despite their resilience, face enormous vulnerability that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and laid bare by the Summer’s protests against racism in our communities,” said Kimberley Chin, acting executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-NY. “It is a call to our State’s leaders to embrace holistic reforms and budget priorities that center children in our collective efforts to Build Back Better.  At Children’s Defense Fund-NY, we are committed to transformative change with a racial equity lens to lift families out of poverty, expand health access, embrace common-sense reforms in youth justice and school discipline, preserve investments that support family stability, and ensure that all legislation and regulations have a positive impact on our Black and Latinx children, youth and families.”  

“CCC’s well-being index gives us important detail about New York’s children and their families in every county of the state,” said Kate Breslin, president and CEO of Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy. “The index and its underlying data are tools we will use to inform lawmakers as they seek to understand how children and families are faring and how we can move the needle. One thing is clear – we have a critical opportunity and imperative to reduce poverty and inequity; it is time for New York to set a comprehensive, measurable poverty reduction target.”

“As the child welfare system rightly moves resources towards supporting families to prevent child abuse and neglect, it is vitally important that we know where communities face the greatest needs,” said Jim Purcell, president and CEO of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies. “CCC’s report identifies clearly where those concerned about child well-being should be connecting with families to best invest resources and energy. We know children in foster care come disproportionately from poor families of color; CCC’s data will help changemakers target community-level interventions which will keep children safe and at home.”

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew that households with children around New York were struggling to meet essential living expenses,” said Andrea Smyth, executive director of the NYS Coalition for Children’s Behavioral Health. “Thanks to the statewide index the CCC has compiled, we can bear witness to the communities with unmet nutritional support, lack of affordable housing, insufficient primary health care, and lack of access to a continuum of behavioral health services, and we can confirm that the health and well-being of children requires the attention of every policy maker at the local, state and federal level.”


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