Report: Child disparities highest in US South, West

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FILE - In this May 25, 2018, file photo, Jose Espinoza, 18, stands outside his trailer with his 4-month-old infant, Emmily, and wife, Maria Rodriguez, 19, in Vado, N.M. while speaking about making only $50 a day picking onions. New Mexico's child poverty rate rose slightly and continues to rank near the bottom nationally despite improvements in the state's economy, a child-advocacy group said Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. The 2019 New Mexico Kids Count Data Book, released by New Mexico Voices for Children, found 26% of the state's children in 2018 remained at or below the federal poverty line. That places the state back to 49th nationally in child poverty. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras, File)

RIO RANCHO, N.M. – Childhood disparities around malnutrition, graduation rates, and early deaths are worst among rural, black-majority counties in the American South and isolated counties with Native American populations, according to a new report.

Those inequities put these populations more at risk for the novel coronavirus, the report by Save the Children concludes.

“The Land of Inopportunity: Closing the Childhood Equity Gap for America’s Kids” report released Tuesday found that children in the most disadvantaged counties die at rates up to five times of children in the same state. Children in those counties also are 14 times as likely to drop out of school and are three times as likely to lack healthy food and consistent meals, the report said.

Using federal data from 2018 and examining more 2,600 counties and their equivalents, the report found that about a third of the 50 worst counties are majority African American and a quarter are majority Native American.

The counties and census areas of Kusilvak (Alaska), Todd (South Dakota), Madison (Louisana), Carson (South Dakota), and Bethel (Alaska) were the five worst-ranked, the report found. Todd County lies entirely within the Rosebud Indian Reservation and Madison Parish is 61% black.

“These are just stunning statistics,” said Mark K. Shriver, senior vice president of U.S. programs & advocacy at Save the Children. “Children growing up rural areas, for instance, are more likely to die before their first birthday at a rate to 20% than in large urban areas.”

The inequality comes from the lack of early childhood education, health care, and job training options in those areas, the report said.

So far, children in some of the poor counties cited in the report live among the areas hardest hit by COVID-19. New Mexico's McKinley County, which sits on the Navajo Nation — a tribe suffering amid the pandemic — is ranked near the bottom in child hunger and graduation rates.