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RI HEALTH

Housing remains top issue in R.I. among families of color, says national report

According to “The State of Babies Yearbook: 2022,” most families of color in Rhode Island live in “crowded housing” at higher rates compared to the national average.

A mom holds her newborn twins while visiting them in the NICU.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — More than 10 percent of Rhode Island babies are living in “crowded housing,” which is when homes have “numerous people who live in close quarters,” according to a new report on the well-being of babies in the US, which published Tuesday.

According to “The State of Babies Yearbook: 2022,” which is part of the Zero to Three’s Think Babies, there are greater crowded housing disparities among families of color. In Rhode Island, which still ranked high in the report among the rest of the US for how the state was supporting babies and families, reported that about 32 percent of Asian babies and 34 percent of Black babies live in crowded housing and about 15 percent of babies in all low-income families live in crowded housing.

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Most families of color in Rhode Island live in crowded housing at higher rates compared to the national average, Patricia Cole, Zero to Three’s senior director of federal policy, told the Globe Monday. Housing for Rhode Island’s babies and toddlers, she explained, is one of the biggest issues.

“[Crowded housing] impacts babies’ development,” said Cole. “And it can effect how much undivided time that child receives... We need to look at our housing policies and really connect the two.”

The report’s data was made available through Child Trends, a nonpartisan nonprofit research organization focused on children, youth, and families. The State of Babies Yearbook provides a profile of each state’s performance on key indicators: “Good health,” “strong families,” and “positive learning experiences.” States are tiered based on how well they support children and families in each of those areas. Those tiers, from least to most supportive, are: “Getting started,” “reaching forward,” “improving outcomes,” and “working effectively.” The tiers are based on a number of indicators including birthweight, the infant mortality rate, uninsured rates of low-income infants and toddlers, and prenatal care, among others.

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Primarily northeast and northwest states achieved the highest tier, which included Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia.

Thirteen states, located primarily in the south, in the Great Plains, or Mountain West, achieved the lowest tier, which included Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming.

More than 60 indicators and policy areas were examined using data from the census, the National Survey of Children’s Health, the Rapid Assessment of Pandemic Impact on Development Early Childhood Household Survey, and other sources.

However, no state is truly working effectively for babies and families of color, even if they ranked high, said Miriam Calderón, chief policy officer at Zero to Three, on a call with reporters on Monday.

Ranking in the top tier “is in no way to say that all babies and families in these states are doing well and have what they need,” she said, but the report should serve as “a resource for states and policy makers.”

Cole said “every state has room to grow,” even if they ranked in the top tier, like Rhode Island.

Across the US, data shows that 40 percent of babies in families with low-income before the pandemic were more likely to experience more economic insecurity during the pandemic. Approximately four in 10 low-income families with young children saw their income decrease in 2021 compared to roughly two in 10 of every higher-income families.

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Approximately 38 percent of higher-income families reported an income increase compared to just 25 percent of lower-income families.

The report also showed that inequities were also apparent in accessing child care. Non-parental child care increased substantially over the course of 2021, from more than 53 percent of surveyed families in January 2021 to 66 percent in December. Yet the return of non-parental care was lower among families with low income, which reflects continued job losses among the lowest-income earners and decreased availability of care. Only about 11 percent of eligible infants and toddlers have access to Early Head Start, and less than 5 percent of federally eligible families receive help paying for child care in the US overall.

However, the report did find that children and caregivers’ overall mental health has shown some improvements since the first year of the pandemic. Yet, families are still reporting lower levels of emotional support and higher levels of loneliness and emotional distress than before the pandemic began. One in five mothers were already reporting less than optimal mental health prior to 2020, the report said.

“The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated our nation’s longstanding failure to invest in the health and well-being of every baby, particularly those from families of color and those with low-incomes,” said Calderón.

She said the mental and physical well-being of babies and toddlers in the US are “powerful indicators of our nation’s overall well-being.

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“[This report] shows that all is not alright for the littlest among us,” she said. “Families with young children are not receiving the resources they need to provide their infants and toddlers with basic necessities required to thrive, which can have lifelong repercussions.”


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.