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Children May Suffer Harm When Parents Lose Jobs, Panel Told

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Washington--The nation's record-high unemployment rate is adversely affecting the health and welfare of children, child-welfare experts told a House subcommittee last week.

Incidences of child abuse have increased as unemployment has increased, and family problems caused or exacerbated by unemployment may prevent the normal development of children, the experts told the Subcommittee on Labor Standards during the first of a series of hearings on the effects of unemployment.

"If I were to select one stress as the most damaging and disruptive to children, it would be the loss of work by their parents," said Dr. Lewis H. Margolis, a pediatrician and re-searcher at the University of North Carolina.

David Mills of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services presented the results of a study in which he compared increases in unemployment rates with increases of reported child-abuse cases.

His study, he said, showed that "the 10 counties whose average annual unemployment rate increased most from 1979 to 1981 [also] averaged an increase of 68.7 percent in child-abuse reporting."

By comparison, those counties with the smallest increase in unemployment averaged only a 12.3-percent increase in reported child-abuse cases, he said.

"We see the manifestation of the stress effects of unemployment in family breakdown, desertion, divorce, spouse and child abuse, men-tal illness, suicide, increased institutionalization, alcoholism, and sometimes violence and incarceration," said Judson L. Stone, director of a mental health center in Elk Grove, Ill.

"Prolonged unemployment causes parents to become depressed. The children, in turn, express their insecurity through withdrawal, depression, 'acting out,' and anxiety. Therefore, the cost to children can be a failure to develop trust, which can lead to severe personality problems in adulthood," Mr. Stone said.

Dr. Margolis added that unemployment of a parent, coupled with the loss of health insurance, can also mean that "many childhood illnesses go untreated." Bailus Walker, director of the Michigan Department of Public Health, said that in his state--which had a 17.3-percent unemployment rate at the end of last year--malnutrition was another result of high unemployment.

"There are families in critical need of basic food, clothing, and shelter in nearly every community. Many of these problems can be fully resolved only by national and state economic recovery," he said.

Representative George Miller, Democrat of California and the subcommittee chairman, said the testimony confirmed his belief that federal social-services programs should receive a budget increase.

"As malnutrition reappears, we have cut student-nutrition and food-supplement programs," he said. "Nearly 11 million people have lost their health insurance because of lost jobs. And a wide range of social services to those most in need have been reduced substantially at the very time that the need for basic assistance is growing."

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