Lower-Income Children Less Involved in School, Survey Shows

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Children in lower-income families are more likely than those who live in wealthier households to have behavioral and emotional problems and are less likely to be "highly engaged" in school, a national survey of families concludes.

But lower-income parents still read to their children and help them participate in activities outside the classroom, such as clubs and sports, the survey shows.

Two Washington-based research groups, the Urban Institute and Child Trends, conducted the survey and released their findings last week. The national survey, part of the Urban Institute's Assessing the New Federalism project, was conducted in 1997--just as the federal welfare-reform law, which shifted many decisions about public assistance to the states, was beginning to take effect. Adults from 44,461 households in 13 states were asked about a variety of issues, including relationships with their children, economic security, and health care.

While the survey results provide a view of family life at all income levels, the report focuses on how certain experiences and situations affect lower-income children and families.

For example, 41 percent of children representing all income levels were found to be very involved and engaged in school, meaning that they cared about doing well and willingly completed homework assignments. But among just the lower-income families, only 34 percent of children fit that description.

Though the survey found that children from poorer families participate less in extracurricular activities than those whose parents have higher incomes, they are still involved at a high rate--73 percent, compared with 90 percent. That level of involvement is encouraging, the report notes, considering that "the sense of efficacy from these experiences can be an important protective factor for children growing up under adverse circumstances."

State-to-State Differences

The survey also reveals unexpected but significant differences between states in such areas as health-insurance coverage, housing, and affordability of food.

Families in Wisconsin reported having the least trouble affording food, when compared with those in the other 12 states surveyed, and California and Texas have the largest percentages of children with no regular source of health care.

Other findings include:

  • At the time their parents or guardians were interviewed, 12 percent of all children in the sample didn't have health insurance. Among only low-income families, 21 percent of children lacked health coverage.
  • Nine percent of children were living with parents who described themselves as "highly aggravated," meaning, for example, that they felt a child was more difficult to care for than most, they felt angry with the child, or they felt as if they were making a lot of sacrifices to meet the child's needs. Among lower-income families, that percentage increased to 13.7.
  • Children who lived with only one parent were more likely to be poor than those who lived with two parents--44 percent, compared with 11 percent. Child-poverty rates in the states also varied greatly: The lowest, 11 percent, was in Wisconsin, while the highest, 34 percent, was in Mississippi.

The newly released results, published in a report called "Snapshots of America's Families" (available online at newfederalism.urban.org/nsaf/foreword.html) will provide a baseline for researchers to measure changes over time. A second survey, which begins this month, will look at how families are faring since the implementation of the new welfare policies.

Vol. 18, Issue 21, Page 5

Published in Print: February 3, 1999, as Lower-Income Children Less Involved in School, Survey Shows
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