Urban Wire Child poverty continues to be high, and the impacts on development are concerning
Heather Sandstrom, Lisa Dubay
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Tuesday’s release of the 2012 poverty numbers painted a grim picture: Poverty rates for children remained stuck at 22 percent – the same as at the peak of the Great Recession. Driven largely by the high unemployment rates of parents, there are currently 16.1 million children living in poverty, despite the slow but steady improvement in the economy. Trends show that the nation has a long way to go to drop below pre-recession rates and improve the economic conditions of low-income families with children.

Even as families recover, the experience of economic insecurity can have lasting impacts on children. Two recent Urban Institute reports document the increases in economic insecurity for families with children during the recession and the effects instability has on children’s developmental outcomes.

Economic insecurity arises when families lack the resources to meet their needs, or face a sudden financial shock that is not buffered by a financial or social safety net. Between 2007 and 2010, the share of children with an unemployed parent or a parent who received unemployment insurance in the past year rose by 7 percentage points – from 9 to 16 percent. Though this share fell to 14 percent in 2012, it remains much higher than pre-recession levels.

Rates of child poverty increased from 18 to 22 percent in 2010, where they remain today. As a consequence, the share of children living in food-insecure households rose from 13 percent to 22 percent over the course of the recession.

The numbers also revealed an increase in the share of children in families that were “doubling up,” or sharing living space with other family members or friends.

Moreover, the recession disproportionately affected minority children and children whose parents had less education, widening the large economic disparities that existed prior to the recession.

As parents divert both monetary and emotional resources to deal with economic shocks, children are often left with limited material and emotional support during difficult transitions. Research shows that the experience of abrupt, involuntary, and/or negative change in a child’s life—or instability—can have long-term negative consequences for children’s academic achievement and social development.

Sudden drops in family income, parental unemployment, changes in residence and family structure, and changes in schools and child care providers can produce extreme levels of stress—even for children from more economically secure families. Single changes alone during sensitive developmental periods can have negative impacts on children’s development, such as difficulties in school, lower educational attainment, and problem behaviors.

What are the long-term implications of the persistent poverty rates among children?

As millions of children continue to suffer from economic insecurity, there is a growing need to intervene. Investments in the supportive systems that serve children are critical not only to their well-being, but to the nation’s future economic security.

Photo by Kevin W. Fowler/AP


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Research Areas Children and youth Child welfare
Tags Poverty Child care Children's health and development Child welfare Economic well-being