Unemployment Affects Children Too

A version of the following post first appeared in A Better Life, a blog for the Courier-Journal about the aftermath of the recession.

Big news last month was that Kentucky’s unemployment rate was under 8 percent for the first time in four years. It is good news that the unemployment rate has been steadily declining in the last year. However, unemployment remains a problem, not only for parents, but for their children. When a parent loses his or her job – it not only creates additional stress and a decrease in income, it also impacts children.  A new report, Unemployment from a Child’s Perspective, released in March from the Urban Institute and First Focus documents those impacts on children.

Millions of people lost their jobs during the Great Recession and many were still unemployed in 2012. Kentucky has some of the highest rates of children with at least one unemployed parent in the country – 11 percent. Additionally, more than one in six children in Kentucky are living with at least one parent who is unemployed or underemployed. In Louisville, the number of children living with at least one unemployed parent increased from 7 percent in 2007 to 10 percent in 2012 – slightly lower than the state rate of 11 percent.

According to the report, even young children who are normally unaware of increases in financial troubles may be aware of the increase in family stress caused by unemployment. After losing a job, there is evidence of increased parental irritability, depression, and higher levels of family conflict. The report also outlines research documenting increased risk of grade repetition or suspension, lower math scores, and poorer school attendance for children with parents who have lost jobs. These problems can persist as children grow up – evidence indicates there are lower rates of college attendance among low-income youths whose parents lost their jobs.

One way to help families and children during periods of job loss and unemployment is to encourage our state and federal lawmakers to be sure a strong safety net is in place for families to use in hard times. For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, has done a great job responding to the increased need of families during the recession. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed Farm bills that would have cut SNAP over ten years. Neither bill was enacted. Current SNAP legislation remains in place until September.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is another program providing assistance to families falling on difficult times. It does not assist as many families with children compared to SNAP because of its block grant structure – meaning the funding for the program does not change based on need. To better help children of unemployed parents, federal lawmakers could work to strengthen TANF and add a contingency fund that would provide additional assistance to families during periods of high unemployment rates.

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