Urban Wire Unemployment benefits can be a lifeline for long-term unemployed families
Olivia Healy, Julia B. Isaacs
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Even though the unemployment rate is slowly improving, millions of children are still living in families affected by job loss. And we should be particularly concerned about children whose parents have been seeking work for six months or longer.

Regular unemployment benefits run out in most states after 26 weeks, and extended benefits under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program were cut off as of December 28, 2013. The Senate is debating measures to reinstate unemployment insurance for the long-term employed, but prospects for final enactment remain uncertain.

Long-term unemployment remains at record high levels. Children may suffer when their parents are out of work for a long time. To assess the number of children affected by long-term unemployment, we updated data from an earlier issue brief examining unemployment from a child’s perspective. The updated table shows that, in an average month in 2013, 2.3 million children were living with a parent who had been seeking work for 26 weeks or longer, or three times as many children as in in 2007.

Every state has seen a dramatic increase in children affected by long-term unemployment over the past six years. The District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, and Rhode Island have particularly large shares of children living with parents who have been unemployed more than six months, according to data through November 2013, as shown in the map below.

Children are affected when their parents lose work, and the negative effects are likely to be higher when parents are out of work for extended periods. Our colleagues found that poverty tripled among long-term unemployed parents, rising from 12 percent before job loss to 35 percent during the period of unemployment. Other studies find that job loss can hurt children’s school performance, as observed in lower math scores, poorer school attendance, and higher risk of grade repetition. In addition, some studies find even longer-term effects: one study found lower rates of college attendance among low-income youth whose parents lost their jobs  and another found lower annual earnings among boys whose fathers lost their jobs after plant closures.

Unemployment insurance is not a panacea to address the problems of job loss. Many working parents are not covered by unemployment insurance because of insufficient earnings or other factors. Yet for those who are covered, unemployment checks can help families cover their rent or mortgage payments, pay for utilities and transportation, and keep food on the table. A new paycheck would put the family on better footing, but for many unemployed parents, the search for a new job is taking longer than six months.


Photo by Jim Prisching/AP

Research Areas Children and youth
Tags Welfare and safety net programs Family and household data Children's health and development Economic well-being Schooling