Unemployment: A Children’s Issue

Poverty & Family Economics

By Christina Kelly

It is no surprise that unemployment negatively impacts millions of Americans today. The struggle to find employment is one that Americans across the country have faced as a result of the recession and continue to face as our economic recovery continues. However, we at First Focus teamed up with The Urban Institute and released a paper last month that considers the impact of unemployment from a stakeholder that often gets lost in the jobs discussion: kids.

Let’s start with the scale of the impact of unemployment on children:

In 2012, 6.2 million children lived in families with at least one unemployed parent.
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1 in 6 or 12.1 million children are impacted by parental unemployment or underemployment.

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Between 2007 and 2012, the number of children with parents unemployed for 6 months or longer more than tripled, rising from .8million in 2007 to 2.8 million in 2012.

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These numbers are clear – unemployment is a big problem that affects children across the country.

And it is easy to understand how the 1 in 6 children that have at least one unemployed or underemployed parents suffer. Unemployed parents lack the resources to support the healthy development of their children. Often, children of unemployed parents do not have access to nutritious meals, safe living conditions, or resources for learning and growth. Moreover, these losses at crucial developmental periods have effects that last a lifetime. Long-term unemployment can change the dynamic of the household and affect a child’s attitudes and aspirations, which shapes their future achievement. Research cited in the brief shows that parental unemployment can lead to lower rates of college access and lower future earnings.

It’s time to make children a focus in the unemployment debate.

When we consider how many children are affected by unemployment, and how negative the impact is, it is astonishing how little help policymakers are extending to families struggling with unemployment. Of families with unemployed parents only 36% received unemployment insurance, 39% received SNAP or TANF assistance, and 35% did not receive any assistance at all in 2011.

The amount of families struggling with unemployment that do not receive unemployment benefits is alarming. 29% of children with an unemployed parent received assistance through SNAP and/or TANF, but not unemployment insurance. This means that nearly a third of children struggling with parental unemployment are needy enough to receive SNAP or TANF assistance, but are not receiving the financial help provided by unemployment benefits. The minimal and limited assistance that SNAP and TANF offers compared to unemployment insurance means that many children with an unemployed parent are facing dire financial circumstances that are leaving them in poverty without the crucial help needed to support their development and provide parents the opportunity to find adequate work.
The issue of unemployment is nothing new, and it is clearly a topic that is not ignored in the public debate. However, I believe that this gives us a new way to think about it. Unemployment is a children’s issue and creating policies that offer a safety net for families when parents become unemployed and help provide parents with the skills and resources they need to re-enter the workforce is as important for promoting healthy child development and well-being as creating what we typically think of as “children’s programs.”