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Rolling Over the Kid Cliff

The loss of unemployment insurance on December 28 will hit more than just the jobless; it could impact hundreds of thousands of kids, too.
A child watches as his mother at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger food pantry as she shops for food on July 24, 2013 in New York, N.Y.
A child watches as his mother at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger food pantry as she shops for food on July 24, 2013 in New York, N.Y.

Three days after Christmas, 1.3 million Americans will lose their unemployment insurance benefits after Republicans in Congress choose not to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides jobless benefits beyond the traditional 26 weeks.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), voicing a Republican talking point, claimed that extending unemployment benefits beyond 26 weeks was “a disservice to these workers” believing they encourage dependency and increase joblessness.

This is contradicted by most economic research. Robert Valletta, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, told The Wall Street Journal that extending unemployment benefits doesn’t encourage people to delay finding a new job but, rather, “keeps” recipients “in the labor force.”

Beyond the proven stimulative impact of unemployment insurance, left unspoken in this debate is the impact these cuts will have on children.

Already children are often disproportionately impacted by their parents’ employment status. In a study released in March, Urban Institute researcher Julia Isaacs examined a “body of research dating back to the Great Depression” that demonstrated the impact of joblessness on “parenting behavior.” One study cited by Isaacs found that “boys whose fathers lost their jobs when plants closed in the early 1980s” suffered an economic impact for the rest of their lives.

Cutting benefits will only compound the deleterious impact of parental joblessness. According the National Employment Law Project, “446,000 children were kept out of poverty by unemployment benefits in 2012.”

Additionally, “a recent study by the Center for Poverty Research found that since 2009, unemployment insurance has been responsible for a 25 percent reduction in poverty among children who have had an unemployed parent.” Now children in similar circumstances will have to endure life below the poverty line.

Furthermore, the elimination of unemployment benefits compounds by the large toll on childrencaused by the sequester, austerity, and the GOP’s general disdain for the poor have already extracted.

When the current school year began, 57,000 children were left out of pre-K classrooms because of sequester cuts to Head Start.

And millions of children were impacted by reductions in SNAP (food stamp) benefits that went into effect in November. According to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities study “a household of three such as a mother with two children” lost the “equivalent [of] about 16 meals a month.”

In total, these cuts were directly felt by 25 percent of American children. This cruelty is only multiplied by House Republicans’ desire to cut SNAP benefits by an additional $40 billion. (The Senate farm bill, backed by Democrats, would cut the program by $4 billion.) 

The raw numbers of children impacted by unemployment insurance are staggering.

According to Isaac’s study, 6.2 million children lived in families with unemployed parents “in an average month in 2012.” While these numbers certainly shifted in 2013, Isaacs found that 45 percent of children living with unemployed parents, or 2.8 million children, have at least “one parent unemployed six months or longer.”

A second study from The Urban Institute by researcher Josh Mitchell found that “single parents are disproportionately likely to be long-term unemployed: They represent 13.3 percent of the long-term unemployed but only 7.6 percent of the employed.” In total, 30.4 percent of all the long-term unemployed were members of families with children.

While exact numbers were not readily available, one can extrapolate from this data that hundreds of thousands of children will be directly impacted by Congress’ failure to extend unemployment insurance.

We have slowly rolled over the kid cliff in the past 12 months, and with House Republicans looking to cut further, it’s not clear that we’ve hit bottom yet. 

Ari Rabin-Havt is host of The Agenda on SiriusXM Progress 127. Follow him on Twitter @AriRabinHavt.