Madeline Daniels
(202) 999-4853 (office)

Washington – Federal benefits are largely failing to reach children affected by unemployment, according to a report released today by the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus.

“One in six children live with an unemployed or underemployed parent, so our leaders should be doing everything they can to prevent kids from falling through the cracks,” said First Focus president Bruce Lesley.

Unemployment from a Child’s Perspective, authored by Julia Isaacs of the Urban Institute, examined the reach of three federal initiatives designed to help the families of the unemployed; Unemployment Insurance (UI), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); and found:

  • UI reaches just 36 percent of children with at least one unemployed parent.
  • More than one fourth (29 percent) of children with unemployed parents have incomes limited enough to be eligible for and receive SNAP and/or TANF, but did not receive the larger UI benefits in the last year.
  • The remaining 35 percent of children impacted by parental unemployment do not receive any of these three benefits designed to support unemployed or low-income families.

Families experiencing long-term unemployment and the exhaustion of available federal unemployment benefits are particularly vulnerable to economic stress. This group has more than tripled since before the recession to 2.8 million children, or almost half of all children living with an unemployed parent. Poverty nearly tripled among parents who remained out of work for six months or longer.

While 9 percent of children experience parental unemployment overall, children from families of color are disproportionately impacted:

  • 14 percent of African-American children live with at least one unemployed parent.
  • 11 percent of Latino children live with at least one unemployed parent.
  • 7 percent of Caucasian children live with at least one unemployed parent.
  • 6 percent of Asian children live with at least one unemployed parent.

The analysis also shows that economic stress can have significant consequences for children. Job loss can have a negative impact on family dynamics through increased parental irritability, depression, and higher levels of family conflict. Family unemployment has a marked impact on children, including documented lower math scores, poorer school attendance, higher risk of grade repetition, and suspension/expulsion.

The report cites recent threats to federal funding for unemployment insurance, SNAP, and TANF. The federal budget resolution passed last week by the U.S. House of Representatives would make deep cuts to SNAP and other anti-poverty initiatives.

“This is an important reminder that kids are still recovering from the recession, and parents should expect their lawmakers to deliver a federal budget that invests in our children,” said Lesley.

First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit