By Kayla Klein, First Focus Intern Associate

The Recession’s Ongoing Impact on Children, 2012: Indicators of Children’s Economic Well-Being, an annual brief published by First Focus and Urban Institute researchers, Julia B. Isaacs and Olivia Healy, examines the continued economic impact of the Great Recession on children and families. In their analysis, they provide a current picture of the recession’s impact on children by assessing three indicators: children living with an unemployed parent, individuals receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, and child poverty rates. Their assessment found that economic conditions by each indicator became substantially worse between 2007 and 2011, with little improvement predicted for 2012.

Isaacs and Healy’s examination comes at a time when measures designed to assist children and families are at risk of ending. Provisions in the family tax credits are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012, which would adversely affect the Child Tax Credit (CTC), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC). The 2009 provisions set to expire from the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit alone kept 1 million children from poverty. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also works to help people living in poverty by assisting them in affording nutritional food. As a part of the expired FARM bill, debates on the sequester and the upcoming fiscal cliff will have large impacts on SNAP. The end of 2012 also brings an end to Unemployment Insurance Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) if it is not renewed by Congress. This insurance provides Americans experiencing long-term unemployment with benefits to help provide for needs such as housing, food, and clothing. Because of this, Isaacs and Healy’s real-time assessment of children living in economic hardship is timely and crucial reading for policymakers and advocates alike.

On the first indicator, the report finds that close to 6.3 million children are living with unemployed parents this year. This high number stems from the fact that nearly one third of the unemployed individuals in the United States are parents. The number of children living under these conditions has risen across the board- each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia has seen an increase in children living with unemployed parents from before the recession to today. Of particular concern, given the looming expiration of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program within Unemployment Insurance, is the number of children living with long-term unemployed parents (6 months or more) has also seen a dramatic increase, from 754,000 in 2077 to 2.8 million in 2012. Long-term unemployment intensifies the problems observed under short-term unemployment, therefore causing even stronger economic hardships and stresses for families and children living under these conditions. Children living with unemployed parents suffer from the economic hardships that unemployment brings on a family. Unemployment causes a substantial loss of income for a family, which can lead to economic hardship and poverty. In addition, unemployment leads to parental psychological stress. This stress has the potential to adversely affect parenting and can even lead to instances of child abuse in some cases.

The second indicator, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formally known as food stamps, is used as a measure of children’s economic well-being because roughly half of SNAP beneficiaries are children and over a quarter are adults living in households with children. In the United States, 21.6 million children received benefits from SNAP in 2012. This is an increase of 8.8 million children from the number of children that received benefits in 2007. Altogether this means that more than one in four American children requires SNAP benefits to meet their nutritional needs. The rise in people seeking SNAP benefits has again increased in every state and the District of Columbia, which indicates that the need is nationwide. This number has been increasing even as unemployment rates in the United States have decreased- signaling that many children and families are continuing to experience the negative effects of the Great Recession.

Child poverty is generally recognized as the go-to measure of children’s overall economic well-being. Official poverty numbers are released on a one-year lag though, making it difficult to assess how children fare in real time. Isaacs and Healy’s analysis predicts 2012 child poverty levels in an effort to inform policymakers and advocates about the current state of children. The authors predict predicts that the U.S. child poverty rate will remain roughly the same in 2012 (22.4 percent) as it was in 2011, when more than 16 million children were living in poverty and the child poverty rate was at 22.5 percent. Altogether, this is an increase of over 3 million children living in poverty now than did before the Great Recession in 2007.

A state with a high child poverty rate is defined as having a rate over 20 percent. Or in other words, the state has more than one in five children living in poverty. Before the recession, 14 states had high child poverty rates. In 2011, there were 27 states listed as having high child poverty rates. If, as predicted, Montana joins the list of states with high child poverty rates in 2012, that means that twice as many states will have high child poverty rates in 2012 than before the recession. Child poverty is particularly concerning because children living in poverty have been found to experience negative effects that can persist into adulthood. Child poverty can disrupt mental and physical development, and can have particularly strong effects on school performance. The worst effects for children come when poverty is experience in early life or when it persists for a long period of time.

The indicators show that the recession has negatively affected children from 2007 to 2011, and there has not been much improvement for children in 2012. Though the economy is starting to slowly recover, many children and families are still experiencing hardships brought on by the recession. This is important for policymakers to keep in mind when making upcoming decisions on the safety net and levels of government spending.