Student Well-Being

Parents’ Unemployment Affects Students at Home, School

By Nirvi Shah — March 29, 2013 2 min read
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Although the unemployment rate in many places in the country is dropping, the recent recession and jobless state that lingers for many parents is having a profound effect on children and their education, a new report says.

In “Unemployment from a Child’s Perspective,” the Urban Institute and First Focus note that while children could benefit from having more time with their parents at home, parents who lose their jobs can be irritable, depressed, and they may shift from parenting that is supportive to parenting that is punitive.

About 6.2 million children lived in families with unemployed parents in 2012, and that number rises to 12.1 million American children—about one in six—when including families with unemployed or underemployed parents during an average month of 2012. That’s a decrease from 2010, when the figure was about 13.5 million children, but a huge increase from 2007, when the number was 7.1 million children.

These children may especially feel the effects of their parents’ unemployment in their education, the report says:

One of the earliest signs that children are not doing well is their school performance. Several studies have documented lower math scores, poorer school attendance, and a higher risk of grade repetition or even suspension or expulsion among children whose parents have lost their jobs. ...[P]arental job loss increases the chances a child will be held back in school by nearly 1 percentage point a year, or 15 percent.

But the effects of parental job loss can persist as children age: The report notes that low-income youth whose parents lose a job have lower rates of college attendance. Looking back at the recession of the 1980s, boys whose fathers lost jobs when manufacturing and other plants closed at that time grew into men who had annual earnings that were about 9 percent lower than similar men whose whose fathers did not lose those jobs.

Other figures of note: Of the 6.2 million children whose parents were unemployed last year, about 2.6 million of them are white, 1.3 million are black, and 1.8 million Hispanic. About a quarter of children of the unemployed are from immigrant families. In five states, 11 percent or more of all children live in families with unemployed parents: California, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, and Rhode Island.

How educated are some of the unemployed parents? The report says that a little less than a fifth are children whose parents lack high school diplomas, three-fifths are children of high school graduates, and nearly one-quarter are children of college-educated parents. I find the fact that parents who have high school diplomas have been harder hit by unemployment than parents who haven’t graduated from high school.

Depressing though this report may be, a different study uncovered signs that children appear to be showing greater resilience in the face of poverty.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.