Parents' Lack of Work Affects 1 in 6 U.S. Children, Study Finds

Jody Brannon

More than 1 in 6 U.S. children have a parent who is unemployed or underemployed, according to a new study, and black children are more likely to be affected.

In her examination of the impact of the recession on children, Julia Isaacs of the Urban Institute found that throughout 2012, 6.2 million kids lived in a family hurt by unemployment, and the figure jumps to almost twice that if underemployment is considered. Her report was released in tandem with First Focus, another bipartisan Washington-based group that advocate for children.

(Related Story: Racial Trends in Federal Aid for Needy Families)

Isaacs studied children whose family's circumstance might include one of three kinds of federal support: unemployment insurance for at least one parent; food stamps (formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); or temporary assistance for needy families. Among her findings, for instance, is that only about 1 in 3 children with at least one jobless parent received unemployment insurance, and 29 percent of children are in a low-income family whose overall income might make it eligible for SNAP and/or TANF benefits but are not receiving such support.

According to February job statistics, blacks remain more likely than all major racial groups to be unemployed, and their jobless rate of 13.8 percent is nearly double the average for all Americans.

(Related Story: Job Outlook Improves for All Races Except Blacks)

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Children of parents who are short on money can suffer from hunger, perform poorly in school, and face the possibility of increased family violence. 

A chart from Isaacs' report, “Unemployment From a Child’s Perspective," shows gradual improvement in the number of children whose parents may be reentering the workforce since the height of the recession in 2010.

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While employment prospects are improving, the job market is not growing as swiftly for people of color and for those who have limited education. In 2012, 2.8 million children had a parent who was in the “labor reserve,” a term that refers to individuals who are able to work but are no longer actively looking because of bleak prospects.

Having an unemployed or underemployed family member can have long-term affects on children; Isaacs referred to a 2010 report that showed a lower likelihood of going to college for low-income youth whose parents had lost a job.

The Urban Institute-First Focus report comes on the heels of a Brookings Institution study released last week that analyzed two decades of tax records to determine “an increase in ‘permanent inequality’ — the advantaged becoming permanently better off, while the disadvantaged becoming permanently worse off.”