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Report: Child Well-Being Back At Pre-Recession Levels

Image of children eating lunch
U.S. Department of Agriculture

A report out of Duke University says the Great Recession had a multi-year negative impact on child well-being in America.

Though the recession occurred from 2007-2009, children felt the effects from the downturn through 2012.

Kenneth Land, a sociology professor at Duke, authored the study and said the recession was one of the worst for child well-being since researchers began tracking data in 1975.

“Families' economic well-being on average across American society were impacted by the great recession with increases in employment rates, with decreases in family incomes,” Land said.

Every year, Duke publishes the Child Well-Being Index Report to analyze the status of child and youth well-being in America. Researchers track 28 time series such as social indicators, census data and national surveys; 1975 is the base year with an index of 100. A number greater than 100 indicates an improvement in child well-being compared to 1975 and vice versa.

The average indexes in 2007 and 2008 was 103.54, but then the recession began to take its toll. The number dropped to 102.34 in 2009, the greatest one-year difference since 1993. The dip continued until 2012 with an index of 101.71.

“The Great Recession – because it was great – it was large and long-lasting with a slow recovery period,” Land said. “This impact is larger than those of previous ones going back to the early 1980s.”

Child well-being took its biggest direct hit from the worsened economy. Families tightened the budget and income decreased. Child poverty also spiked, starting in 2007.

But there were indirect impacts to child well-being as well. The report cites a likely lack of funding for public preschools as the reason for lower enrollment there.

Still, not all was bad during the recession. Land said during recessions, there’s usually a lower circulation of people and goods, which could explain why fewer children were involved in violent crimes.

“With family household budgets cramped, it's more likely that they spent more time at home and in relatively protected environments which reduce their exposure to violent crime rates,” Land said.

More children also gained health insurance with the expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Land said by 2013, almost 93 percent of children lived in families with health insurance.

Though the research mainly focuses on adolescents, Land said they also track some data for young adults. He said the rate of bachelor’s degrees steadily increased for 25-29 year olds during the recession.

“With the job market pretty sour, (there is) less competition to attract people away from continuing their education, so the rates accordingly show some increase,” Land said.

Since 2012’s index of 101.71, child well-being has improved in America. The latest numbers for 2014 show an index of 103.25, putting it back on par with pre-recession levels.

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