A friend who lost her job nine months ago told me that her daughter had begun to struggle in school and act out. Her teachers asked my friend if anything at home had changed since the little girl’s disruptive behavior was out of character and came out of the blue.
My friend concluded that it was the undercurrent of tension in the house from the job loss. She and her husband – who has been cut back to part-time hours – had been having a lot of terse discussions about their money problems and whether they could afford to fix the car or order a pizza that night.
While they did not mean to scare their child with their comments, apparently the girl sensed the pressures and responded to the stress in ways that showed up in school.
There is a fascinating New York Times story dealing with the toll on children when a parent loses a job. Among the information in the story that relates to education and child development:
A recent study at the University of California, Davis, found that children in families where the head of the household had lost a job were 15 percent more likely to repeat a grade. Ariel Kalil, a University of Chicago professor of public policy, and Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, of the Institute for Children and Poverty in New York, found in an earlier study that adolescent children of low-income single mothers who endured unemployment had an increased chance of dropping out of school and showed declines in emotional well-being.
In the long term, children whose parents were laid off have been found to have lower annual earnings as adults than those whose parents remained employed, a phenomenon Peter R. Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, mentioned in a speech last week at New York University.
A variety of studies have tied drops in family income to negative effects on children’s development. But Dr. Kalil, a developmental psychologist and director of the university’s Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, said the more important factor, especially in middle-class households, appeared to be changes in family dynamics from job loss.
“The extent that job losers are stressed and emotionally disengaged or withdrawn, this really matters for kids,” she said. “The other thing that matters is parental conflict. That has been shown repeatedly in psychological studies to be a bad family dynamic.”