Our economy is hurting our kids – here’s what we should do about it

4950245620_450c42b9f4_oThe Great Recession didn’t only damage our economy – it also hurt the growth and development of many American kids.

During the past quarter century, national and state policies have resulted in numerous positive gains in child health, safety and education – advances in medicine and public health, increased safety regulations, and improved high school graduation rates, just to name a few.

But according to a recent report by the Casey Foundation, the economic safety and security of our nation’s children has actually declined in the last 25 years. While national trends concerning education and health have shown distinct improvement, indicators regarding economic well-being have worsened across the board.

Compared to 10 years ago,  16.4  million more children are living  in poverty, 23 million more children have families who lack secure employment, and 27.7 million more children are living in households with a high housing cost burden.

One of the largest changes in the economy that occurred during this period was the growth of single mothers with young children in the labor force. From 1994-2010, the employment rate of single mothers with children under 6 years old increased 11%. Compounding this trend, the job opportunities for single mothers without a college degree have been concentrated in low-wage sectors and in nonstandard employment, which tend to be less stable and offer few or no benefits, such as health insurance and paid sick leave. Single mothers are further disadvantaged by the gender wage gap. In Washington State, the typical woman working full time earns only 78 cents to a man’s dollar.

Growing up in a family that struggles with poverty and financial stress is one of the greatest threats to healthy childhood development. The Washington Women’s Economic Security Agenda – which encompasses paycheck transparency, paid sick leave, and family and medical leave insurance – can help reduce child poverty by improving family economic security. Paid sick, safe, and family leave policies for all workers enable women to care for themselves and their children when ill without risking their jobs or their paycheck. The Washington Paycheck Fairness Act discourages wage discrimination based on sex by protecting women from being fired for inquiring about compensation. A boost in this type of job quality and employment protection will help working women better manage their work-life balance and provide a more secure home environment for their children to thrive and reach their fullest potential.

We can all be proud of our nation’s past work to improve the well-being of our nation’s kids. However, substantial work still remains to improve the prospects for the next generation, especially for low-income children. Strengthening economic security for Washington workers through fair pay and paid leave is a significant step toward increasing economic opportunity for women and improving outcomes for all children.

By Sarah Van Houten, Graduate Intern

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