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Unemployment Takes a Heavy Toll on Children, Too

Too Small to Fail
By Too Small to Fail

More than 12 million children currently live in households where at least one parent is unemployed or underemployed; about 11 percent of those children, or 2.8 million, are five-years-old or younger. This population has approximately doubled in size since before the United States recession, and shows no sign of decreasing. Families that experience unemployment come from a wide range of ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds, though unemployment tends to be most heavily experienced among African American and Hispanic families.

Children who live in homes where parents or caregivers are concerned about a severe decline in income experience a great deal of stress, and often have access to fewer important resources like high-quality childcare, nutritious and regular meals, health care and learning materials. This can be especially damaging for very young children because early experiences have a tremendous impact on their long-term health and well-being, and can impact their preparedness for kindergarten and beyond. Often, parents experiencing job loss can also be depressed or more irritable, affecting the quality of parent-child bonding and causing these important relationships to be stressed.

Parents and caregivers can help minimize the effects of unemployment on their children. Skills like learning how to focus on tasks at hand, set goals and make plans, follow rules, solve problems and control impulses are all helpful for parents and caregivers to know so they can protect the emotional well-being of their children.  In addition, there are important government resources that parents can apply for to help their children receive basic things like health care and food while they are unemployed, and also to help them manage finances and taxes during tough times.

Learn more:

  • This Urban Institute report highlights the impact of unemployment on children, and how parents can mitigate its effects.
  • The Center for the Study of Social Policy provides information on the side-effects of unemployment on children, and links to various resources for parents and caregivers to find help. 

In the News:


Dr. Jack Shonkoff of Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child describes how we can strengthen communities to help children’s learning, health and behavior.

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