Panel Paper: Economic Insecurity in Children's Lives: Changes over the Course of the Great Recession

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 9:00 AM
Georgetown I (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lisa Dubay, Urban Institute
This paper examines changes in family stress and instability and use of public programs before and after the Great Recession. There is a long history of empirical work from the Great Depression regarding the negative effects of economic stress on children's development.  These effects work through a number of mechanisms including families having fewer economic resources to provide children with the foundations needed for health and development and altering parenting patterns associated with healthy development.  Given the high and continuing rates of unemployment and long term unemployment, understanding the extent to which children are living in stressful family  circumstances, how this has changed over time and which children it effects most is important.  

We use two years of the Current Population Survey (CPS) to examine changes in family stress and benefit receipt between 2007 and 2010 in families with children.  This strategy assumes that changes in the population level of static measures suggest that instability has occurred at the family level.  We develop three indices measuring: 1) family stress and instability based on family structure, economic hardship, turbulence and parents' health; 2) receipt of public benefits targeted at the family; and 3) receipt public benefit targeted at children. We examine changes in these measures for all children and by race of the child and educational attainment of the parents.

We observed significant increases in each of the individual components of our family stress and instability measures except for those associated with parental health.  Overall, we found that the number of children with no family stressors fell while the number of children facing three or more family stressors increased.  While there was an increase in public benefit use over this period, few families were receiving benefits from more than one program targeted at the family, but many children were receiving benefits from child targeted programs.  Over this time period, the large and consistent disparities across race and educational attainment groups in family stress and economic insecurity that existed prior to the recession increased significantly. 

 Since the Great Recession children are increasingly living in stressful family circumstances and it appears that public programs are not reaching all of those in need.  While programs targeted at children are broad based and reach a large share of children, those that focus on helping the family are more limited. While the recession technically ended years ago, unemployment rates remain high and have been high for a long period of time touching many children at critical developments junctures.  It will therefore be important to understand the toll the recession has taken on child health and development.