Families and Children Experienced Decade-Long Decline in Economic Well-Being

Jan 17, 2013

By Emily Firgens

Research overwhelmingly shows that growing up in poverty can result in negative short- and long-term outcomes for children, affecting their physical health, school achievement, and cognitive and emotional development. Yet, children and families faced increasing economic hardship over the course of the past decade, and investments in early childhood and economic policies, while effective in countering poverty, failed to keep pace with the increasing need. The Foundation for Child Development's (FCD) recent report on the well-being of children and youth in the U.S., finds that from 2001 to 2011 the percentage of children living below the poverty line rose from 15.6 percent to 21.4 percent, and the median income of families dropped $6,300 (in real dollars) during this ten-year period.

Secure employment is also more difficult to come by. In 2001, 79 percent of children were living in a house where at least one parent was securely employed. This figure dropped to 71 percent in 2011.

FCD's report, which has data going back to 1975, analyzes child well-being across seven domains or indicators; these include family economic well-being, safe/risky behavior, social relationships, emotional/spiritual well-being, community engagement, educational attainment, and health. Enrollment in pre-kindergarten, which can ameliorate some of the impacts of poverty, saw little change between 2001 and 2011, increasing slightly from 52.4 percent to 54 percent. Health insurance coverage also increased only slightly from 88.7 percent in 2001 to 90.6 percent in 2011.

The deteriorating economic well-being of families does not bode well for the future outcomes of children growing up today. However, there are policies and programs that can improve family economic well-being and positively impact the cognitive and health outcomes of children. For example, the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) help lift children out of poverty by improving the economic well-being of families. Congress recently recognized their importance by extending improvements made to these programs in the recent deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. In 2011, EITC kept 3.1 million children out of poverty. High-quality, comprehensive early childhood education programs also play a key role in improving children's well-being by supporting parents' employment and increasing earnings, while also offering children stimulating environments with stable, nurturing caregivers and access to health supports and family engagement activities.

By investing in economic and early childhood programs that support children and families, policymakers can improve their well being over the coming years and decades. 

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