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Children at Risk: Kids in Economically Insecure Households

Children thrive under stable circumstances, decades of research show. Yet, according to the SERPI, households with children report the greatest economic insecurity and instability. This is true for all four domains in the SERPI: employment, medical, wealth and family. Both perceived insecurity and experienced instability are higher in families with children than other households.

Why are households with children apparently less able to cope with the economic shocks that befall them? One reason may be that their private safety net is often weaker: Although households with children report being able to borrow more from their extended family than do other households, they have more limited financial reserves (44% can last three months without income before incurring hardship, compared to 58% of households with no children), are more likely to have drained their retirement accounts paying bills (25% vs. 19%) and more likely to be in such deep debt they don't know how they can recover (28% vs. 15%).

As a result, economic shocks create more unmet basic needs (such as going hungry or experiencing housing dislocations) for households with children. Among households with at least one economic shock, 47% of those with children report at least one unmet basic need, compared to 35% for all other households.

Beyond having a weaker safety net, these differences might also reflect the fact that parents are often less able than other adults to work longer hours or multiple jobs in response to a financial setback. Whatever the reason, economic insecurity and children seem to go together-which is bad for kids and their parents alike.