Children and families living in poverty are more heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s why.

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Posted on 04/19/2020

You’re scared. You’re struggling. As you’re figuring out ways to cope with the effects of COVID-19 in your own life, you’re also looking for ways to help others. Meanwhile, people who were already living in poverty before the pandemic? They really, really need help. This crisis is affecting the children and families we serve in deeper, wider, more destructive ways than most – and here’s why:

Children and families living in poverty are less able to absorb the shocks caused by the global response to COVID-19.

Most of us are experiencing the ripple effects of COVID-19 long before we know someone who gets the virus. For many – especially those living in poverty – those ripple effects themselves are causing extreme damage.

Many low-income jobs involve a lot more interaction with the public and a lot less stability – and both of these factors are uniquely hazardous during this pandemic. If a child’s mom works in a local market selling goods, she’s at a higher risk of exposure to the virus. On the other hand, if the market closes to encourage social distancing, the mom loses her source of income, and without unemployment benefits, she can no longer afford to provide for her child.

If the child’s school closes too, she not only loses access to education (because if her house doesn’t have electricity, she certainly doesn’t have internet access to keep up with her learning), but she also loses the reliable meals she ate every day at school.


Girl in Bolivia sits inside holding empty bowl.

Jhosemarin, 9, lives in Bolivia. Before the pandemic, she got free lunch at her school.

Children and families living in poverty are less able to protect themselves from COVID-19.

“Wash your hands often. Clean and disinfect surfaces. Stay at least 6 feet away from others.”

These instructions mean nothing to a child who doesn’t have access to clean water and soap in the first place. They mean nothing to a child who lives in a shelter, a slum or a refugee camp, where he’s in close quarters with dozens or hundreds of other people and shares common spaces like bathrooms and kitchens.

When a child is unable to protect himself and the virus hits his community, he and his family are much more likely to become infected.


Boy in Philippines squatting in alleyway.

Al John, 8, lives in a crowded squatter settlement in Manila, Philippines.

Children and families living in poverty are less able to recover if they contract COVID-19.

What happens when a child gets COVID-19? If she’s already malnourished or has other preexisting health conditions caused by poverty, she’s more likely to get severely sick from the virus. And if she and her family live in a community with weak health care infrastructure, the issues only get worse.

Her family may live far away from the nearest hospital and have no transportation. If they’re able to get to the hospital, it might not have enough beds: For example, in Kenya, there are only 550 intensive care beds in the entire country. And even if her family can overcome those obstacles and she survives, the medical bills will likely be financially debilitating.

A mother holding her daughter outside mud house in Kenya.

Tupet, 5, lives with her mom Yiaai Ene in Kenya, and suffered from malnutrition and stunted growth.

Children and families living in poverty are more likely to stay in poverty longer because of COVID-19.

The bottom line is that COVID-19 is highlighting inequalities across the globe – harming people who live below the poverty line far more than those above it. And the effects of this crisis will be felt far beyond the immediate damage. Food insecurity is expected to rise, causing more children and families to face life-threatening hunger. It’s estimated that the number of people who are considered to be impoverished will increase drastically – by at least 14 million – because of the slowdown of the global economy caused by this pandemic.

We know – it doesn’t look good. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

You can help children and families in poverty survive and recover from COVID-19.

All these severe projections and predictions are based on the status quo. If we’re learning anything as a global community during this moment in history, it is how deeply connected each of us is to one another – how much we need each other. So, if you’re in a position where you’re able to give, this is a time when you can make a real, measurable difference in the life of a child and her family, or maybe two families, or three. The more people there are like you who help others, the more we change the status quo and create the best possible new world for ourselves and our neighbors, near and far.

These unprecedented times call for unprecedented hope and unparalleled action. You can bring hope and take action by giving today to help the children and families who need help the most – and to help all of us – get through this crisis, together.


Group of kids in school uniforms standing outside in India

A group of kids embrace outside their primary school in India.