Jobs a Major Challenge for Low-Income Families, Report Finds

The number of American children living with job-seeking, unemployed adults has doubled since 2007 and nearly a third of children live in a household without a full-time employed parent, according to a data book on children and families that is being released today.

Nearly 11 percent of children, about eight million of them, lived with at least one parent who was unemployed, according the Kids Count Data Book, published by Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation. The book tracks statistical indicators of well-being for children and teens, and ranks states according to their performance on 10 of those indicators.

The percentage of children living with two parents who both lacked full-time employment increased from 27 percent in 2008 to 31 percent 2009. In every state in the country, at least one in five children lives in such a situation.

The report recommends extending long-term unemployment insurance, which is due to expire at the end of this year, if the unemployment rate hasn’t significantly improved by then.

“Right now, today, the thing that is most critical for families is unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed, especially those with kids,” said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the foundation. Many of them “are in dire need of cash today.”

Other recommendations included in the Kids Count report include increased foreclosure protection for families, removing “disincentives to marriage” and investments in early literacy programs.

On a positive note, death rates for young children and teens declined through the decade, the report found. The death rate for children between age one and 14 dropped 14 percent (to 19 per 1,000), and the rate for teens between 15 and 19 dropped 7 percent (to 62 per 1,000).

“It’s because so many child and teen deaths involve auto accidents,” Speer said, “and cars are being built much safer.”

The percentage of babies born with low birth weights in 2008 (8.2 percent) has increased 8 percent since 2000, but that might partly be a good thing.

“Part of it is that some babies who would never make it” are now born and kept alive with better medical technology, Speer explained. This, she said, causes the mortality rate to drop and the percentage of low-birth weight babies to rise.

There was, as usual, little change in the overall rankings for most states. The largest changes were Kansas, which slipped from 13 to 19, and South Dakota, which improved from 26 to 21.

New Hampshire has led the rankings every year since 2000. Louisiana and Mississippi have finished 49 and 50, respectively, every year.

“I would guess that the first day the book was ever done, there was some idea there’d be way to track state improvements over time and whether they’d improve over each other,” Speer said.

But few states have moved further than five spots up or down in the rankings since 2000. The middle states tend to jump around a little, but “the states at the bottom, and at the top, are very much at the bottom and top,” Speer said.

Click here to access the entire Kids Count Data Center, including the new report, for free.


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