The government considers a family of four to be impoverished if they take in less than $22,000 a year. Based on that standard, and government projections of unemployment, it is estimated the poverty rate for kids in this country will soon hit 25 percent. Those children would be the largest American generation to be raised in hard times since the Great Depression.
A report from the Foundation for Child Development (FCD) offers an analysis of the relationship between family income and child health, education, and social outcomes. Declining Fortunes of Children in Middle-Class Families(pdf) found that even before the recent recession, middle class families saw a drop in family income of approximately $4,000, while privileged families only saw a decrease of $139. The “income gap” between middle class and high-income families has expanded over the past 20 years, from $60,000 in 1985 to $93,100 in 2008.
The report found that for middle-class children, public education and health programs have helped to provide supports and services that their families cannot afford, like access to health insurance and pre-kindergarten education. The report’s authors caution that in the face of government budgetary shortfalls, eliminating these services would have a negative impact on the health and wellness of middle-class children.
“This study is a stark reminder that policies we set today have very wide and real ramifications in the lives of children – not only children from low-income families but children squarely in the middleclass,” said Ruby Takanishi, President of FCD. “The budget decisions we make in the coming months will have consequences that could last a lifetime.”
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.”
For more information:
Read First Focus’s companion policy briefs on child health, food security, housing security, and child maltreatment, which consider the role of public programs in the process of economic recovery and provides recommendations for improving the provision of services to vulnerable children and families