Reports Find American Dream Out of Reach for Rural Poor

Angelina Dinehdeal wipes tears from her eyes as she sits with her 8-year-old daughter, Annabelle, on the family’s compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on April 20, 2020. Like many on the Navajo reservation. the family has been devastated by Covid-19. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Hunger, early death, young pregnancy, and high school attrition are worst among rural, majority black communities across the South, and in Native American populations, according to a new study from Save the Children. 

These inequities put the disadvantaged communities at greater risk for Covid-19, according to the report released Tuesday.

“The Land of Inopportunity: Closing the Childhood Equity Gap for America’s Kids” is the first report of its kind to be released by Save the Children, ranking counties across the United States by factors influencing overall health and wellbeing. The report was released in conjunction with another report that looked at the health of children worldwide, the 2020 Global Childhood Report, which ranked the United States 43rd out of 180  in the world for childhood wellbeing, right alongside China and Montenegro.

The report was part of a larger annual study by Save the Children that has repeatedly found that the United States falls far below other Western countries in how it provides for and protects its children.

“One of the key findings [of both reports] is that a child can be exponentially more likely to succeed in life than another child based entirely on where they live,” said Mark K. Shriver, senior vice president of U.S. programs & advocacy at Save the Children at a news conference this week.

“In the U.S. I think we continue to be surprised, and discouraged, at just how far behind the U.S. is when it comes to providing for and protecting our kids,” Shriver said.

Four years ago, when the childhood report was developed, “We knew we wanted to take a closer look at where and why childhood was ending too soon across America. It bears repeating that childhoods are ending too soon all across this country,” Shriver said.

Shriver said the report shows that rural child poverty is much more pervasive in all but seven states.

Children in rural areas are 20% more likely to die before their first birthday, and later on in life, to die at rates of up to five times that of neighboring counties; they are three times as likely to go hungry, 14 times more likely to drop out of high school, and girls are 24 times more likely to get pregnant in their teens.

The inequality comes from lack of early childhood education, lack of health care, and high rates of unemployment in certain, mostly rural areas, the report said.

“The grim reality that we are talking about is affecting millions of kids in this country,” Shriver said.

Shriver said the report clearly shows that investments in education, especially in early childhood, are paying off because the states with the highest rates of childhood wellbeing — among them Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa — invest heavily in “child-focused legislation.”

“In this election year it is crucial that we vote for leaders who vote for children’s needs,” Shriver said.

In Kusilvak, Alaska, for instance, 78 teenage girls out of 100,000 will get pregnant, compared with one teenage girl in Hunterdon, New Jersey. In Madison Parish, Louisiana, 144 children out of 100,000 will die, compared with 19 children in the same New Jersey’s Hunterdon County, according to the report.

“In short, the American dream is out of reach from the beginning for many children, and that’s true in every single state across our nation based entirely on where they grow up,” said Betsy Zorio, vice president of U.S. programs & advocacy for Save the Children.

Coronavirus has “certainly exacerbated and highlighted the equity gap” among U.S. counties, Zorio said.

“Those are realities we knew existed before the pandemic hit. I think the pandemic magnified them and exacerbated them,” she said.

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