How Parents’ Unemployment Affects Children

by Colette Moran

From a story by Joanna Venator and Richard V. Reeves at Brookings: 

While economists and policy makers rightly worry about today’s jobless, there are potentially some long-term costs, too, not just for the individual out of work — but for their children. And not just in terms of economic and educational opportunities, but in terms of the picture of adult life provided to impressionable children. As Larry Summers says:

“We may be losing yet another generation of kids who don’t have the kind of role models in their parents that they should because of the difficulties their parents are having economically. There’s now been clear studies that show that when dad and mom have jobs that they’re proud of and they’re doing those jobs, junior works harder in school, does better in school, and is more likely to succeed.”

In other words, jobless parents raise less ambitious kids. If that’s right, inequality across generations gets entrenched even more deeply.

The article points out that it is not just economic hardship that affects children — it’s also observing their parents’ reactions to being out of work. 

Possessing “drive” or the intrinsic motivation to succeed can make a big difference in whether a child moves up the income ladder as an adult, as our work at Brookings has shown. If children witnessing their parents’ joblessness lower their own horizons as a result, the damage of today’s unemployment could last well into the next generation.

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