World Reimagined

Today’s Children Could Make Trillions Less Over the Course of Their Life Due to COVID

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COVID’s impact on children is still being felt, but it seems to be getting worse all the time.

Beyond the mental health issues, soaring absenteeism and the educational lags the pandemic brought about for children and teens, the long-term impact on their potential earnings is starting to become more clear—and it’s a scary number.

study by McKinsey finds that over 17 million students have experienced more than half a year of pandemic-related learning delays. If there is no intervention to recover that time, it says, each of those students could lose between $54,000 and $69,000 in lifetime earnings per student.

Those numbers follow a 2021 study by the World Bank that estimated the current generation of students risks losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value, or about 14 percent of today’s global GDP, as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures.

To put that into perspective, the initial estimates by the World Bank in 2020 put the total predicted loss at $10 trillion.

The challenges, obviously, are significant, but with action, McKinsey points out, it could be possible to recover that potential lost income.

Beyond the 17 million that have more than half a year of pandemic-related learning delay, there are 16 million students who need mental-health support (and are not receiving it), and 15 million students who are chronically absent. The key to overcoming these challenges is to tackle them together.

For instance, some school districts in Tennessee and the Minnesota’s Saint Paul Public Schools are seeing significant student academic gains due to high-quality tutoring. Some 50,000 Tennessee students participated in tutoring programs, resulting in one-third of a year of academic growth on average among students in kindergarten through second grade. In Saint Paul, working with tutors resulted in a 60% increase in state assessment scores.

The mental health hurdles, unfortunately, aren’t seeing such promising returns. Between 2020 and 2021, 42% of high school students reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and 10% reported having attempted suicide. An estimated 17.4 million K–12 students have mental-health needs, but based on current mental-health provider capacity only 1.1 million students can be served in school.

There is increasing availability and access to mental health services, but the rollout is taking time. Some states, such as California, and districts, like Georgia’s Henry County, are trying non-traditional ways to offer support, such as pairing educational programs with field experience to expand the pipeline of mental health professionals. And some states are expanding their budget to accommodate more mental health professionals in schools.

Absenteeism is an issue that hasn’t received as much attention, but 15 million students were chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year. The long-term ramifications of this are jarring. The Utah Education Policy Center found chronically absent students are 1.7 times less likely to meet grade-level standards for reading and 7.4 times more likely to drop out of school.

To correct this, some districts are tasking child welfare workers to more carefully monitor attendance and identify students in need of intervention. In Sacramento City, a program of this sort resulted in a 2% decline in chronic absenteeism in pilot schools.

The issue with all of these programs, of course, is scale. Schools need budgets to implement them and not every district has the funding required to do so. Failing to address the issues, though, will not only prove potentially harmful for children, it could have dramatic impacts on income levels (and, ultimately, government spending) in the not-too-distant future.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Chris Morris

Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience, more than half of which were spent with some of the Internet’s biggest sites, including CNNMoney.com, where he was Director of Content Development, and Yahoo! Finance, where he was managing editor. Today, he writes for dozens of national outlets including Digital Trends, Fortune, and CNBC.com.

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