Children’s Well Being and the Great Recession

Photo credit: Nina Naylor (

Last week, a study out of Duke University’s Department of Sociology, funded by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, found that California children’s well being improved by 16% between 1995 and 2006.

Researchers found that between 1995 and 2006, California’s children’s health and well-being improved in five key areas: educational attainment, emotional well-being, family economics, health, and behavioral concerns.

Good news, right?

Unfortunately, that is not the whole story.

We are in the Great Recession. 1995-2006 were roughly bubble years.

The study projects the following childhood poverty rates:

Given the likelihood that the current economic recession could have wide-ranging effects on child well-being, this study, in addition to examining trends from 1995 to 2006, also projects poverty rates through 2012 for the state, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles County.

In California in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, 18.5% of children lived below the federal poverty level of roughly $22,000 for a family of four. Using the economic projection methods noted in the methodology, the poverty rate is estimated to rise to a high of 27% in 2010, before falling to 24% in 2012, meaning the impact of the current economic recession likely will be long-lasting for California’s children.

In Los Angeles County, the poverty rate was 21.9% in 2008 — and that rate is expected to climb to 35% in 2010, then decline to roughly 30-32% in 2012. This could mean that in the county that is home to more than 25% of California’s children, nearly one out of every three kids will be living below the federal poverty level.

More modest increases in child poverty are projected for the higher-income Bay Area, where poverty rates ranged from roughly 8% to 13% in 2008, depending on the county.In the Bay Area, rates are expected to rise to 15-16% in 2010, and then decline slightly, to roughly 13-14% in 2012.

I’m not a numbers person, but these numbers are pretty alarming. Especially when you take into account the broad definition of poverty ($22K for a family of four?!?!) and the high cost of living in California.


Taking it down to the basic level – a child’s well being is directly effected by  the parents’ ability to provide the basics – food, clothing, shelter (and diapers!).  If basic needs are not being met, a struggling family will be unable to focus on larger issues that can make or break their chances of raising a healthy child.

This is a perfect storm that is brewing. It isn’t a dramatic visual a la Hurricane Katrina, but it is coming none the less.

Will we be prepared?