When Parents Lose Their Jobs, Their Children Also Suffer. But Sometimes There’s a Consolation.


Parents who lost jobs reported greater depression and stress and more negative interactions with their children — but only if their income declined. Jobless parents who replaced their income, through government aid or second earners, experienced no negative effects. If anything, those parents reported that their interactions with their children had improved.

“Parents really prize their time with their kids, and the support allowed them to enjoy it,” Ms. Kalil said. “Their normal lives are stressful, and having that paid time off is salutary for their mental health.”

Yet even without aid, some Las Vegas parents found satisfaction in the family time their involuntary joblessness brought. Ms. Kelly, the casino housekeeper, became all but homeless after losing her unemployment benefits (for reasons she does not understand), but has had more time for a disabled son and a daughter who was cutting herself. “She wasn’t getting my attention because I was at work,” Ms. Kelly said. “I see a big difference.”

“We can’t live like this forever,” Ms. Kelly added. “I have to go back to work.”

The April rate of parental unemployment — 21.7 percent of children had unemployed parents — shattered the previous monthly record of 16 percent from January 1983. At this year’s peak, that was about 16 million children.

“That’s really an alarming number,” said Mr. Parolin, the Columbia researcher. “Even if parents quickly return to work, I wouldn’t underestimate the psychological toll unemployment takes, particularly in the context of the pandemic.”

Parental unemployment varies greatly by race, with the August levels among Black children (16.2 percent) and Latino children (14.3 percent) nearly twice that of white children (8.3 percent). Likewise, unemployment is much higher among less-educated workers than college graduates, and higher among mothers than fathers, reversing a trend toward gender equity in work rates.

“With schools out, it’s more often mothers who stay home from work,” Mr. Parolin said.

Parental unemployment exceeded a five-month average of 20 percent in a dozen major metropolitan areas, including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, San Francisco, Detroit and Orlando. Recent Census Bureau surveys showed that households with a jobless parent were about twice as likely as others to miss rent payments or lack sufficient access to food.


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