Although the profound health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are prompting new questions about how families with young children may be affected, there has been limited attention to the specific ways that safety net policies and pandemic relief programs can be leveraged to buffer the pandemic’s adverse consequences for the youngest members of US society. As a result, opportunities have been missed to reduce harm among families with young children. In this brief, we use data from the most recent wave of the Coronavirus Tracking Survey, a nationally representative survey of nonelderly adults conducted September 11–28, 2020, to assess food insecurity and other key indicators of material hardship and well-being among families with young children. We find the following:
- Four in 10 parents (40.3 percent) living with a child under age 6 reported they or their family experienced a loss of employment or work-related income during the first six months of the pandemic, and this economic turbulence can make it difficult for families to meet basic needs at a sensitive point in early child development.
- Parents who experienced a job loss or a loss in job-related income reported using a variety of coping strategies, including cutting household spending on food (34.4 percent), using all or most of their savings (26 percent) and increasing credit card debt (25.5 percent). As the recession persists, many families may have few resources to weather further hardship.
- More than 1 in 5 parents (22.9 percent) reported that their household experienced food insecurity, which was the most common form of material hardship, in the past 30 days, followed by unmet need for health care because of costs in the past 30 days (21.4 percent). Although a smaller share reported struggling to pay utilities (13 percent) or rent (11.8 percent), these challenges may indicate a risk of future housing instability.
Moreover, many families with young children have missed out on or delayed health care because of worry about exposure to the novel coronavirus or because providers limited services because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Almost half of these parents (46.2 percent) reported an unmet need for health care in the family for these reasons. Three in 10 parents (31.9 percent) reported an unmet need for health care for a child for these reasons, including almost 1 in 10 (8.9 percent) who reported an unmet need for a child’s immunizations.