The number of homes with an unemployed parent rose by a third in just six years

August 27, 2013

Job seekers meet with recruiters at a job fair. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty.)

The number of households with at least one out-of-work parent soared by a third from 2005 to 2011, according to a new U.S. Census report on families and living arrangements.

The report paints a vivid picture of how the American household has changed over the recent and more distant past. But one of the most striking statistics was the rapid 33 percent rise in the number of homes with at least one unemployed parent since before the recession began.

In some states, that increase was more dramatic than the national average. California, New Jersey and Connecticut all saw increases of more than 60 percent between 2005 and 2011. In Hawaii, the number of such homes nearly doubled, rising 95 percent. And, in hard-hit Nevada, the number of homes with an unemployed parent rose by 148 percent.

The Census data confirm the findings of private researchers as well. A March report on the children of the unemployed from the Urban Institute, a policy research organization, found that more than one in six children had an unemployed or underemployed parent last year, down slightly from a 2010 peak.

And while the number of children with at least one unemployed parent swelled and then retracted some over the past several years, the number of those parents who were unemployed six months or longer more than tripled. Such long-term unemployment has proven to be one of the more difficult problems of the employment recovery and has been associated with sometimes devastating and long-lasting consequences for job seekers and their families.

“People may not think of this as much, but job loss can also have a negative impact on family dynamics,” says Julia Isaacs, the author of the March report. Studies have found that parental long-term unemployment can also lead to poorer grades and attendance in school among children, she said. Those who suffer from such long spells of unemployment often continue to suffer from permanently lower wages, stilted careers, deterioration of mental and physical health, and higher mortality rates, all of which can impact their children as well.

Homeownership rates among parents also fell during the recession, according to the Census data. From 2005 to 2011, the number of children whose parents owned their homes fell by 15 percent. California, Arizona, Michigan and Ohio saw declines of 20 percent or more

In addition, more than one in four children last year lived with just one of their parents, with wide variations by race. More than half of black children—55 percent—lived in a single-parent household. Among Hispanics, that rate was 31 percent. Just over one in five white non-Hispanic children—21 percent—lived in single-parent households in 2012, while that rate was just 13 percent for Asian children.

Here’s a Census map showing how each state fared relative to the national average (click to view a larger version):


Eight states saw a faster-than-average increase in the number of homes with at least one unemployed parent. (Source: U.S. Census.)
Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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