How Housing Insecurity Impacts Children

The Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity is running a series of commentaries in November and December exploring the relationship between housing and health, economic opportunity, and education. The second installment in the series, “The Housing Vaccine: Why Housing Matters to Young Children,” considers the impact housing can have on a child, from birth through the early years of development. Pediatricians Megan Sandel and Deborah A. Frank of  Children’s HealthWatch write that a safe home is as important to children as vaccines–both keep them healthy. They address the concept of “housing insecurity,” defined as doubling up with other families for economic reasons, overcrowding, or moving two or more times in a year, which puts children at risk for poor health and developmental delays.

In Boston Public Schools, moving between schools, or “mobility,” impacts 25% of students, putting them at risk for low academic performance, behavior problems, and absenteeism. This is more than twice the state average of 10%. Housing subsidies, write Drs. Sandel and Frank, will protect families from both housing insecurity and food insecurity:

“Similar to receiving one shot against multiple diseases,  young children who live in subsidized housing are much more likely to be  ‘well’—developmentally normal, not underweight or overweight, in good or excellent health, and  with no history of hospitalizations.”

For more information:

  • Visit the home page of the series, where you can read the other commentaries
  • Follow the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity on Twitter @PovertyNews

Study Shows School Lunch Programs May Help Break Poverty Cycle

A new study published online in the journal Pediatrics found that food insecurity is associated with poor academic achievement in adolescents. However, when these adolescents received school-based food supplementation programs (like free and reduced-price lunch), they performed the same as their peers who were not living in food-insecure households. The authors write that their results suggest that “school food assistant or some aspect of it may well help adolescents thrive during the secondary school years and may be a part of a successful poverty-reduction strategy.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14.7% of households were food insecure at least some time during 2009–the highest recorded  rate of food insecurity since 1995 when the first national food security survey was conducted.

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The Recession’s Effect on Children

A new report published by the bipartisan advocacy organization First Focus illustrates how recessions affect child well-being and concludes that even temporary poverty has lifelong health implications for children. Conducted by researchers at PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the report, “The Effect of Recession on Child Well-Being,” says it takes years for families, especially low-income families, to bounce back to pre-recession income levels.

The study synthesized evidence in four areas–health, food security, housing stability, and child maltreatment–and reviewed the correlation of each to child well-being during recessions, past and present. The study found that as a result of increased poverty, approximately 43% of families with children report that they are struggling to afford stable housing. The study also found an increase in the number of “food insecure” households.

“While there has been much discussion about housing issues for families during this recession, I’m not sure many people know how profound the food insecurity issues have been, where as many as 74% of children in some of our communities are now relying on food stamps to put dinner on the table,” said David Rubin, MD, MSCE, director of PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The evidence is also strong that those families who entered the recession in poverty will take much longer to rebound, demonstrating that we have a long road ahead even as the economy improves.”

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