Global Recession Left Lasting Mark on World’s Children

    John Moore / Staff

John Moore / Staff/ Getty Images

It’s an interesting data trend that we’ve been following in the years following the global Great Recession. Like any economic phenomena, from the price bubbles collapse in Japan to the Great Depression here in America, there are bound to be endless studies and considerations of the lead up to the recession and the eventual fallout for years to come. One study in April of this year examined how women were effected differently by the recession by men — arguably in some cases weathering the economic turn down better than men.

This was a result of different industries suffering to different degrees, and industries with a higher percentage of female workers, like health and education, retained more jobs than industries with higher male demographics, like construction. More generally, goods producing industries did poorly compared to service industries, which women are more likely to be employed in.

While this doesn’t by any means indicate that women weren’t subject to similar economic struggles, and often loss of a dual income, it does mean women were generally able to weather some of the recession fallout better than men. The recovery has also disproportionately improved markets affecting more women than men, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

A new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) examined how the recession has effected another very specific group across other demographic categories: children. This is an even more interesting group to look at for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s indicative of how families fared, not just one member of a household. For another, children of this generation, and the conditions under which they are raised, will have a direct affect on the future of the United States.

The results are predictable, yet grim, and come alongside UNICEF’s statement that 2014 has been “a devastating year for children” given the 15 million children involved in major conflicts. The included UNICEF video focuses on areas like Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine, demonstrating the effects of violence and conflict on the lives of so many. But it also includes data on children whose lives have been affected closer to home.

Post-recession poverty in America

Since 2008 there have been 2.6 million kids have fallen below the poverty line in wealthy countries. Worldwide that ups the number to 76.5 million. “Many affluent countries have suffered a ‘great leap backwords’ in terms of household income, and the impact on children will have long-lasting repercussions for them and their communities,” said Head of Global Policy and Strategy at UNICEF, Jeffrey O’Malley.

Looking specifically at the United States, childhood poverty has increased by 1.7 million since 2008 to 24.2 million children, with increases in 34 out of 50 states. Those numbers are notably worse than those seen in 1982, the last major recession the U.S. dealt with. UNICEF and Columbia University both note that social programs have been of particular importance in the last few years, and from what the data can show us, they’ve been effective in mitigating some of the most dire effects of the economic downturn, at least in part. Columbia University has research showing that without Supplemental Poverty measures child poverty would be up an additional 8.5 percentage points. UNICEF takes some of the positive edge of of that by stating that while “social safety net measures provided important support to poor working families,” they were “less effective for the extreme poor without jobs.”

Cuts to SNAP and WIC

Indeed, these programs haven’t sufficiently removed the problems facing many families today, because realistically those problems can only be solved by changes to the job market, education, and opportunities. It’s also worth noting that many social programs, including SNAP and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), have suffered cuts and controversy in recent years. In 2013, food stamps saw what amounted to a cut through inaction when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 expired, removing earlier increases to funding. Some aspects of the Act were renewed by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, but not all of them, and certain vital aspects saw reduced support.

As a recent Brookings report pointed out — though in relation to an almost directly opposite point with a far more optimistic message — social mobility is most easily increased when you focus on childhood opportunities, education, and stability. Having a safe environment at home, enough food, and a more livable family income can make a huge difference in the success of a child in school and thus the subsequent opportunities that arise later in life.

What about other nations?

The United Nations also addressed a number of other wealthy nations, including Ireland, Croatia, Latvia, Greece, and Iceland, where poverty rates went up by more than 50%. According to the report, 23 out of the 41 examined saw an increase in child poverty in 2008.

This can hardly come as a surprise. After all, economies are interdependent and the recession was an international crisis, as much a problem overseas as it was in the U.S. Greece in particular required a good deal of help to regain economic footing after its debt crisis. What does come as a surprise though, is that in 18 of the countries considered, child poverty actually dropped. Those include Australia, Chile, Finland, Norway, Poland, and the Slovak Republic, all of which saw approximately a 30% decrease.

This is in part likely due to the fact that some countries have a greater percentage of GDP assigned to social programs; in others a different policy strategy for mitigating recession effects may have been more effective, and for still others it could simply be that their nation was shielded from some of the adverse effects of the recession. Either way, it’s a hopeful note to end on, and a list America should aim to add its name to in the coming years.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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