Key Messages/Talking Points


Main Message

Telling the story of America’s babies is more important than ever. The  State of Babies Yearbook: 2021 shows us that, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the littlest among us did not have the supports they needed to thrive. As a result, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the conditions that contribute to babies’ development and families’ stability. We did not need a crystal ball to predict how our nation’s infants and toddlers would be impacted.  Black and Brown babies and babies in families with low income continue to experience disparities in GOOD HEALTH, STRONG FAMILIES, AND POSITIVE EARLY LEARNING EXPERIENCES resulting from barriers associated with systemic racism and lack of economic opportunity. It is high time we enact robust, comprehensive, permanent child and family policies so our nation’s families will never again be set adrift, in crisis or in calm.   

About State of Babies Yearbook: 2021

  • The State of Babies Yearbook, an initiative of Think Babies, bridges the gap between science and policy with national and state-by-state data on the well-being of America’s babies. The Yearbook includes 60 indicators across policy areas essential for a strong start in life: GOOD HEALTH, STRONG FAMILIES, AND POSITIVE EARLY LEARNING EXPERIENCES. The 2021  Yearbook is augmented by RAPID-EC data collected by a special survey led by the University of Oregon during the pandemic to show how the crisis affected families with infants and toddlers.  
  • Policymakers and advocates can use the data to identify and advance policies that produce the near-term support and long-term stability that babies and families need.   
  • States are grouped into one of four tiers (for each policy area and overall) based on how they fare on selected indicators and policy domains that represent their progress towards assuring access to healthcare, paid family leave, quality education, and more. The tiers from bottom to top are: Getting Started (G), Reaching Forward (GR), Improving Outcomes (GRO), and Working Efficiently (GROW). The top tier (GROW) is the top 25% of states while the bottom tier (G) is the lowest performing 25% of states.  While State of Babies Yearbook: 2021  continues to place states in tiers, we urge state policymakers and advocates to not focus on the ranking, but rather the babies and focus on the needs and particularly the disparities indicated within their own states. 
  • ZERO TO THREE worked with Child Trends to select indicators of infants, toddlers, and their families’ well-being in the three areas of ZERO TO THREE’s policy framework. The data were obtained from national datasets (e.g., the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and National Survey of Children’s Health) that provide reliable, ongoing, and comparable data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The  Yearbook  includes new indicators as part of a plan to reach the best group of indicators to track over time. During that process, the indicators on which the tiers are based will remain constant, using the same set as in the 2020 edition.  
  • The 2021 Yearbook presents findings on the well-being of America’s babies and their families as last reported in key national datasets. Because these datasets are reported retrospectively—a majority based on data from 2019—they do not yet reflect the very consequential disruptions families experienced with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It remains critical that we understand the “before story,” because it demonstrates that even before the pandemic, families with young children lacked access to supports that would have helped them weather the COVID-19 crisis.  


  • The data are clear: Even before the pandemic, our country wasn’t doing enough for all of our babies to thrive.   
  • 50 percent of the nation’s babies are children of color which includes Hispanic (26 percent), Black (13.7 percent), Asian (4.8 percent), American Indian/Alaska Native (.8 percent), Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (.2 percent) and Multiple Races (4.8 percent) of babies. Because of historical and structural inequities resulting from systemic racism, American Indian/Alaska Native, Black and Hispanic children are more likely to be poor, to be born too soon or too small, and to live in unsafe neighborhoods or unstable housing. 
  • The United States ranks 33rd in child poverty among 37 economically advanced countries, a drop from 32nd in 2020 and 31st in 2019.  
  • Before COVID-19, as many as 40 percent of infants and toddlers lived in families with low income (less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level). Examining the data by race presents a clearer picture with as many as 61 percent of Black babies, 55 percent of Latinx babies, and 63 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native babies living in families with low income, above the national average, compared to 37 percent of Multiple Race babies, 29 percent of White babies, and 25 percent of Asian babies, who are below the national average. 
  • These disparities have been exacerbated by the COVID 19 pandemic. For example, Black and Latinx families with low income pre-COVID were more likely to experience income loss than other families according to data collected by the RAPID-EC project. 
  • Every state, city, town, and neighborhood needs to do better for babies if we as a country are going to weather this storm. In every state, significant disparities are hurting the ability for babies and families of color to thrive, often driven by historical and structural inequities. By nearly every measure, children living in families with low income and children of color face the biggest obstacles now and even prior to COVID-19. The current crisis has further exposed and exacerbated these disparities and structural barriers, which have harmful and life-altering effects that begin even before birth and can last a lifetime.  

Why This Matters

  • There are 11.5 million infants and toddlers in the United States today. Each of these young children is born with unlimited potential. We can’t afford to squander the potential of a single child if our nation is to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and find success in the years to come.   
  • Children who are healthy—socially, emotionally, and physically—are more likely to become healthy, stable, successful adults. Investing in the well-being of the next generation benefits us all.  
  • Supporting babies’ and mothers’ physical and mental health provides the foundation for infants’ lifelong physical, cognitive, emotional, and social well-being. 
  • Where you’re born, the color of your skin, or your family’s income should not make a difference in your chances for a strong start in life.   
  • The pandemic has exacerbated the challenges that families are facing.  Although we do not yet know the pandemic’s long-term effects on early childhood development, families with young children have faced unprecedented challenges that create the conditions for detrimental impacts.  
  • We need to change the frame for policymaking. Rather than labeling babies “at-risk,” we should stamp “unlimited potential” on each tiny forehead. Rather than talk about “the achievement gap” when children get to school, we need to talk about the opportunity gap that for too many babies, starts even before birth. When we ignore the critical first few months and years of a baby’s development, they pay for it in the long run and so do we. Negative early experiences can translate into lower academic success, higher disease rates, and lower economic stability. But we know that investment in the earliest years of life to ensure “positive early experiences” can lead to greater success in school, higher adult earnings, and overall better health.   

What We Can Do

  • The need to make the potential of every baby our national priority has never been more urgent. As the State of BabiesYearbook shows, the status quo for babies and families before the pandemic was already unacceptable, leaving them particularly vulnerable to crises large and small. To simply return to the way things were is unacceptable.  
  • To do better for our babies and our nation’s future, we need Congress and state leaders to seize the opportunity to create the forward-looking, family-centered policies that our nation has lacked. Policymakers need to make babies a priority through policies built on the science of brain development and budgets that put babies and families first.  
  • The American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, invests in babies and families across the country. It is a crucial step toward recovery, but it is not, on its own, enough.  
  • ZERO TO THREE created Think Babies™ to make the potential of every baby a national priority. When we Think Babies and invest in infants, toddlers, and their families, we ensure a strong future for us all. 
  • Think Babies is a call to action for policymakers to prioritize the needs of infants, toddlers and their families. Specifically, we call on federal and state policymakers to: 
    • Invest in quality child care 
    • Make paid leave permanent  
    • Permanently expand the Child Tax Credit 
    • Expand Early Head Start  
    • Invest in Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health 
    • Transform the strong system for family support
  • Join the movement to Think Babies  by signing up for our email list, visiting, and joining the conversation on social media at and @zerotothree on Twitter.   
  • Learn more about what you can do to be an advocate for babies in your state at