Revisiting the Work-Based Safety Net in an Era of High Unemployment

Oct 21, 2010

Elizabeth Lower-Basch, senior policy analyst at CLASP, gave the keynote address at the 2010 East Coast TANF Director's Conference on Oct. 21. Following are excerpts from her prepared remarks.

According to data released by the Census Bureau last month, the number of children in poverty rose from 14.1 million to 15.5 million in 2009, and the child poverty rate increased from 19 percent to nearly 21 percent. This is the highest level since before welfare reform. In other words, all the progress that we made on reducing child poverty in the late 1990s has been lost.  Perhaps even more troubling, 9.3 percent of children lived in deep poverty--households with incomes below 50 percent of the federal poverty level.

These figures matter because poverty is associated both with lower levels of well-being today and with lasting consequences for both the children and society.  When compared with children from more affluent families, poor children are more likely to have low academic achievement, drop out of school, and have health, behavioral, and emotional problems. These links are particularly strong for children whose families experience deep poverty, who are poor during early childhood, and who are trapped in poverty for a long time. As high as the overall poverty rate is, it's even higher for our youngest children --one out of four children under age 5 lived in poor families.

Disparities in children's cognitive, social, behavioral, and health outcomes begin as early as 9 months, and grow larger by 24 months.  What this means is that poor children are falling behind before they start school, and they never get a chance to catch up. The duration of poverty also matters. Children who spend more than four years of their childhood in poverty are more likely to be poor for extended periods as adults, more likely to leave school without a high school diploma, and more likely to become unwed teen parents. All this, in turn, puts their children at high risk.

Even short-term increases in poverty can have negative long-term effects on children.  Unplanned moves due to eviction or foreclosure disrupt child care arrangements and schooling. Parents are more likely to be stressed, depressed or just plain overwhelmed.  A number of studies show that young adults who are unemployed or out of the labor force due to a recession when they should be gaining formative work experience have permanently reduced earnings prospects.

So, for all these reasons, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program matters for children, families , and to society as a whole, which pays the price for poverty in the form of  worse health, reduced educational attainment, and lower economic growth. Read more>>

 

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