Recession Wipes Out Years of Well-Being Gains for Children

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Via Wonkbook, this morning, the Foundation for Child Development released its annual report on the well-being of America’s children, and it should send shivers down the spine of every legislator and economic policy analyst in Washington. The report shows that on a number of metrics, particularly relating to the economic and food security of children, the recession has caused serious — sometimes even generational — setbacks.

The worst has yet to come. Our research shows that conditions for children deteriorated through 2009 and are projected to bottom out in 2010. Virtually all the progress made in the family economic well-being domain since 1975 will be wiped out. Families, schools, neighborhood and community organizations, and governments continue to cope with budget cuts and the loss of jobs, producing the anticipated “lag time” in economic recovery.

Some of the worrying data points:

  • The proportion of children living below the poverty line will hit 21 percent this year. That is the highest rate in two decades.
  • The proportion of children living in extreme poverty — in households with income less than half of the poverty line — will hit 10 percent this year. All in all, 7.4 million children are living in extreme poverty.
  • 20 million children live in homes with an unemployed parent or parents. The percentage of children living in families “with no secure parental employment” has climbed from 22 percent in 2006 to 26 percent this year.
  • The proportion of children living in households with at least one employed parent has fallen from 78 percent in 2006 to 74 percent this year.
  • Since 2006, the number of children with at least one employed parent has declined by 1,989,000.
  • The survey anticipates that real income will decline for families with children. The declines will be sharper for households headed by single parents, and sharpest for single-parent households headed by men.
  • Currently, 17.7 percent of children live in “food insecure” households, a one-percentage-point increase and 750,000-child increase since 2007.
  • The report also estimates that there are currently 500,000 homeless children in America.

The report amounts to an extraordinarily compelling argument for a strong social safety net — for food aid, unemployment benefits and things like the COBRA extension. One bright spot: Recent legislative victories have helped maintain the proportion of children with access to health care and health insurance. “Of all of the Key Indicators in the Family Economic Well-Being Domain, the health insurance indicator will be the least negatively impacted by the current recession. The main reason is that health insurance coverage for children is substantially impacted by public programs, such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and other publicly financed health care programs,” the report notes. “The percentage of children in families with some form of health insurance likely will remain relatively stable at around 90 percent, as in recent years.”

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