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Highest Percentage of Unemployed Parents Noted Since 1994: Negative Effects on Children

New labor force information on families with children was released recently by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The new data (for 2010) show that in 13 percent of families with children under age 18, there was no employed parent.  This is the highest proportion since tracking of these data began in 1994.

Having an employed parent has important implications for children’s well-being, even beyond the obvious connection with economic security.  Studies of children with a parent who suffers a permanent job loss due to structural changes in the economy have found that these families have a greater likelihood of parental divorce and family relocation, and the children are more likely to repeat a grade.  And, the children’s own earnings, when they grow up and enter the labor force, are diminished.  Thus, the “scarring” effects of parental unemployment may be multigenerational.  (see the Child Trends DataBank for more information on the importance of parental employment.)

Many families depend on two parental incomes to make ends meet, and both dual and single parents must find work that that helps them meet child care expenses.  The share of married-couple families having two parents working fell in 2010 to 58 percent from 59 percent in 2009.  Sixty-four percent of all mothers with children younger than six were in the labor force, as were 56 percent of mothers with infants under one year.

David Murphey, Senior Research Scientist


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