As of 2013, more than one in four children (26 percent) did not have at least one resident parent employed full-time, year-round. Among children younger than six, three in ten (30 percent) were without secure parental employment and, of children in families headed by single mothers, more than half (58 percent).
Secure attachment to the labor force, defined here as full-time, full-year employment, is a major contributor to financial stability and well-being for families. For low-income families, it is not a guarantee of escape from poverty,  but it is associated with higher family income and greater access to private health insurance. Higher income, in turn, is associated with many positive child outcomes including better health, behavior, academic achievement, and financial well-being as adults., In particular, deep, persistent, and early poverty are related to poorer child development. A study of low-income families found benefits to children’s social-emotional skills when their mothers were employed early in the child’s life, compared with similar children whose mothers who were not employed. However, in some cases, long hours of employment among mothers with very young children have been associated with modestly negative child outcomes. Studies have found drops in family income, as well as income fluctuation, to be associated with a greater risk of behavioral problems, and lower reading and mathematics achievement, compared with children in families who had not been poor. More recent research links parental (particularly fathers’) permanent job loss to increased likelihood of parental divorce, family relocation, and children’s repeating a grade; and to decreased earnings when children enter the labor force. Thus, the “scarring” effects of parental unemployment may be multigenerational.
The proportion of children with at least one resident parent employed full-time, year-round rose from a low of 67 percent in 1982, to 72 percent in 1990, and 80 percent in 2000, but declined between 2000 and 2010, to 71 percent. By 2013, the proportion had increased to 74 percent of all children. Gains in secure parental employment during the 1990-to-2000 period were particularly large for children in families headed by single parents, for non-Hispanic black children, and for children in poor families. In contrast, between 2006 and 2010, change in this indicator was negative for all groups. Positive gains since then have been mainly among children living with two parents. (Figure 1 and Appendix 1)
Differences by Family Structure
Children who live in single-parent families are more vulnerable to a parent’s loss of employment than are children living with two married parents. Among children who lived with two married parents in 2013, 87 percent had at least one parent employed full-time, year-round, compared with 42 percent of children living with single mothers, and 63 percent of children living with single fathers. (Figure 2)
Among children living with single mothers, the proportion whose mother was employed full-time declined steadily, from 48 percent in 2006 to 41 percent in 2010, with few gains since. This decline followed a period, coincident with welfare reform, when the rate increased from 33 percent (in 1993) to 50 percent (in 2002).
Among children in families with two parents, secure employment for parents also increased between 1985 and 2000, from 81 to 90 percent. After remaining steady through 2007, the proportion of children in this group who had at least one parent securely employed fell to 83 percent in 2009, recovering to 87 percent by 2013. The proportion of children whose parents both had secure employment, reached a high of 33 percent in 2000, which has not been regained since. The proportion was 32 percent in 2013. (Figure 1)
Differences by Age
Older children are more likely than younger children to have at least one parent employed full-time, year-round. Among children living in single-mother families in 2013, 32 percent of children under age six had mothers employed full-time, year-round, compared with 47 percent of children ages 6 to 17. Among children living in two-parent households, the share of children living with at least one parent employed full-time, year-round also varies by age-group, although the disparity is much smaller (85 and 87 percent, respectively, for children five and younger, and six and older). (Figure 2)
Differences by Poverty Status
In 2013, among children living below the poverty line, slightly more than one in four had at least one parent in the household employed full-time, year-round, compared with more than eight out of ten children at or above the poverty line (27 and 85 percent, respectively). Within each household type (dual-parent, single-mother, single-father), children in poverty were much less likely than non-poor children to have a securely employed parent. (Figure 3)
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin
In 2013, white children were more likely than Hispanic children to have at least one parent employed full-time, year-round (81 and 66 percent, respectively). At 57 percent, black children were less likely than either white or Hispanic children to have at least one parent with secure employment. However, black children in two-parent families were similar to their Hispanic peers in their likelihood of having at least one parent employed (81 and 80 percent, respectively). Black children living with single mothers were also as likely as their Hispanic peers to have a securely employed parent (41 and 40 percent, respectively). White children in all family types were more likely than their non-white peers to have a securely employed parent. (Appendix 1)
State and Local Estimates
State-level estimates for the following indicators are available from the KIDS COUNT Data Center:
- the percentage of children living in families where no parent has full-time, full-year employment
- the percentage of children under age six with all available parents in the labor force
- the percentage of children under age six, and children ages 6-12, with no parent in the labor force
- the percentage of children in immigrant families without secure parental employment
- the percentage of children in immigrant families with all available parents in the labor force
- the percentage of children in immigrant families with no parent in the labor force
What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator
See Hashim, K. and Moore, K. A. (2007). What works for increasing family income and parental employment: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions. Child Trends Fact Sheet.
Also, see the Self Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse from the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Children in Working Poor Families
- Youth Neither Enrolled in School nor Working
- Children in Poverty
- Child Recipients of Welfare
- Long-term Welfare Dependence
A parent is defined as securely employed if he or she was usually working full-time (at least 35 hours per week) for 50 or more weeks in the most recent calendar year.
Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, Table ECON2. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. http://childstats.gov/americaschildren/.
Raw Data Source
Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement (formerly known as the March Supplement)
Appendix 1 - Secure Parental Employment: Percentage of Children Under Age 18 Living With at Least One Parent Employed Full-Time, All Year: 1 Selected Years, 1980-2013
|All Children Living with Parent(s)||70||70||72||74||80||79||78||77||78||78||78||77||75||72||71||73||73||74|
|At or Above Poverty||81||82||85||86||88||87||87||86||87||88||88||87||85||83||83||85||85||85|
|Children Under 6||67||67||68||69||76||76||75||73||74||75||75||73||71||67||66||69||69||70|
|Children Ages 6-17||72||72||74||76||81||80||79||79||79||80||80||79||77||74||73||74||75||76|
|Children Living in Families Maintained by Two Parents||80||81||85||87||90||89||88||88||88||89||89||89||86||83||83||86||85||87|
|With Both Parents Working Full Time All Year||17||20||25||28||33||32||30||29||30||31||32||32||31||29||28||29||30||32|
|At or Above Poverty||84||87||89||91||93||92||91||91||92||92||92||92||90||88||89||90||90||91|
|Children Under 6||76||79||83||86||89||88||85||86||86||87||87||87||84||80||80||83||84||85|
|Children Ages 6-17||81||82||85||87||91||90||89||88||89||90||90||90||88||85||84||87||86||87|
|Children Living in Families Maintained by Single Mothers3||33||32||33||38||49||48||50||47||47||48||48||47||45||44||41||41||43||42|
|At or Above Poverty||59||59||60||61||67||67||69||69||67||70||70||68||67||66||65||65||66||65|
|Children Under 6||20||20||21||24||36||38||40||34||34||37||37||36||33||34||31||32||32||32|
|Children Ages 6-17||38||37||40||45||55||53||54||53||52||53||54||53||51||48||47||46||47||47|
|Children Living in Families Maintained by Single Fathers3||57||60||64||67||69||69||68||63||68||71||67||66||61||54||55||62||61||63|
|At or Above Poverty||68||69||74||79||79||78||77||73||78||80||78||76||71||67||69||74||74||74|
|Children Under 6||48||57||58||54||65||67||65||56||62||66||61||61||56||46||50||60||56||56|
|Children Ages 6-17||59||62||67||74||70||70||70||65||71||73||70||69||63||58||58||63||64||66|
|1Full-time, all-year employment is defined as usually working full time (35 hours or more per week) for 50-52 weeks.2Data for estimates before 1980 are based on the race/ethnicity of the child, from 1980 on estimates are based on the race/ethnicity of the mother. Before 1980 data for the mother's marital status was estimated for the United States from data for registration areas in which marital status of mother was reported. For 1980 on, data for States in which the mother's marital status was not reported were inferred from other items on the birth certificate and included with data from the reporting States. Estimates reflect the new OMB race definitions, and include only those who are identified with a single race. Hispanics may be of any race.3Includes some families where both parents are present in the household, but living as unmarried partners.Source: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2012, Table ECON2. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available at: http://childstats.gov/americaschildren/.|
Brooks-Gunn, J., and Duncan, G. (1997). The Effects of poverty on children. The Future of Children.7(2), 55-71. http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/07_02_03.pdf
 Dahl, G., and Lochner, L. (2008). The impact of family income on child achievement: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit. NBER Working Paper No. 14599. Washington, DC: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Moore, K. A., Redd, Z., Burkhauser, M., Mbwana, K., & Collins, A. (2009). Children in poverty: Trends, consequences, and policy options. Child Trends Research Brief. http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/PovertyRB.pdf.
 Coley, R. L. & Lombardi, C. M. (2013). Does maternal employment following childbirth support or inhibit low-income children’s long-term development? Child Development, 84(1), 178–197.
 Lucas-Thompson, R. G., Goldberg, W. A., & Prause, J. (2012). Maternal work early in the lives of children and its distal association with achievement and behavior problems: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 136(6), 915-942.
 Moore, K, Glei, D., Driscoll, A, Zaslow, M., and Redd, Z. (2002). Poverty and welfare patterns: Implications for children. Journal of Social Policy, 31(2), 207-227.
 Stevens, A. H., and Schaller, J. (2011). Short-run effects of parental job loss on children’s academic achievement. Economics of Education Review, 30(2), 289-299.
 Oreopoulos, P., Page, M., and Stevens, A. H. (2008). The intergenerational effects of worker displacement. Journal of Labor Economics, 26(3), 455-483.
Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.
Child Trends Databank. (2015). Secure parental employment. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=secure-parental-employment
Last updated: December 2015