CA Ranked Last of 50 States in Key Childhood Indicators; Progress Threatened by COVID-19

Press Release

A higher percentage of California’s children live in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma than any other state. In addition, a higher percentage of California children live in households that spend more than 30% of income on housing than in any other state.

These are just two of the findings about California in a new 50-state data report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. California children were among those hardest-hit by the pandemic, with California ranking among the bottom 20 states for most of the six pandemic-period indicators, according to the KIDS COUNT Data Book, a 50-state report released annually to track child well-being in the United States.

The report came out this week, coinciding with Child Tax Credit Awareness Day, hosted by the White House to get the word out on relief to families struggling from the pandemic. Permanent expansion of the Child Tax Credit is the main policy recommendation in this year’s Data Book. Experts predict it will lift more than 4 million children above the poverty line in 2021.

The data show that 14% of California households with kids sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in March 2021, tying the state for 6th worst in the country. This figure was even higher for Black households (28%) and Latino households (22%), underscoring the pandemic’s uneven impact on California’s children of color.

The Foundation contends that an insufficient response to the crisis could erase nearly a decade of progress in child well-being following the Great Recession. This year’s book ranks the states from 1 to 50 in terms of child well-being on the eve of the pandemic and shows how the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated inequality.

According to the report, California ranks as following out of the 50 states in these key categories pertaining to children’s well-being:


  • Economic well-being: 43rd. Sixteen percent of children in California lived in households with income below the poverty line. 

  • Education: 36th. As of 2019, half of all 3- and 4-year olds were not enrolled in an early education program, which is crucial to setting kids up for success in school and beyond.

  • Health: 11th. While California has been a national leader in expanding coverage to all kids, there is a concerning uptick in the number of uninsured children in California — from 2018 to 2019, 35,000 more kids were found to lack health insurance, for a total of 334,000 children without coverage.

  • Family and Community Context: 36th. In 2019, there were more children in families where the household head lacked a high school diploma in California than in any other state. 

  • Overall childhood well-being rank: 33rd

About Children Now

Children Now is a non-partisan, whole-child research, policy development and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting children’s health and education in California. The organization also leads The Children’s Movement of California, a network of over 4,100 direct service, parent, youth, civil rights, faith-based and community groups dedicated to improving children’s well-being.


About the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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