Economic Hardship and Children's Behavioral Health in the Wake of the Great Recession: Findings from the Michigan Recession and Recovery Study-Child and Youth Study

  • Of MRRS respondents who are primary caregivers, 12% report experiencing deep financial trouble, 33% report that their finances have deteriorated over the past year, and 31% report that it is "extremely" or "very" difficult to live on their current income.
  • Primary caregivers who report being in deep financial trouble also report significantly higher rates of their children exhibiting problematic behavior (7.49% vs. 5.45%). The same is true of those who are having difficulty living on their current income (7.30% vs. 4.96%).
  • Important factors for children's health and well-being are at risk of being negatively affected. 19.5% of those whose finances deteriorated also cut back on medical or dental care compared to only 5.6% of those who finances had not deteriorated. 34.2% of those in deep financial trouble cut back on food compared to 7.2% of those who were not in deep financial trouble.

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Not surprising? Given the increasing disparity and dismantling of the social welfare system, these kids are vulnerable in a way that affects their physical health and well-being. It's been well established that besides health problems, they will experience greater problems in school, with higher amounts of stress being correlated with lifelong issues with learning. In places like Philadelphia, where they have dismissed school nurses and social workers in school, mental health will be delegated to where it is increasingly delegated— to the prison/probationary system, where it will be piecemeal if delivered at all.

Poverty is feminized and racialized in our country and in much of the world, meaning that poverty compounds problems already encountered by groups that experience other forms of oppression. It is a way that both the attempted dismantling of affirmative action and the declining resources of social services will magnify these problems, which in turn, will further drive the disparity.

The political ramifications are significant, as the right has been running on the idea of dysfunction as a way to prevent government from regulating industry, providing services or doing anything to address income disparity.

So what is the upshot of all this? Millions of children in the US will suffer grave mental and physical health problems, which will have a permanent affect on their developmental trajectory. Developmental trajectory matters for a couple of reasons—one is the reality that neuroplasticity declines as we age, meaning that we tend to be more neurologically vulnerable when we are younger. We become both less likely to be affected by environmental insults as we age but we are are also less able to overcome the neurological impact of childhood traumas and stressors. State is more likely to become trait and we become permanently affected by early childhood stress in many ways. Secondly, of course, has to do with associated tasks of adolescents and the fact that being under stress, makes learning more difficult, resulting in things like the 9th grade bubble. The 9th grade bubble is a phenomenon that relates to the fact that there are more children in 9th grade than any other grade in school because vulnerable children struggle under the increasing independence and academic difficult in high school and often do not progress beyond that grade. It can contribute to dropping out of high school. And dropping out in high school has lifelong consequences.

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Sure, there will be hardy kids who for many reasons will be relatively unscathed (there is always a degree of multifinality) but as a class, these children will suffer with more long-term health problems which will likely lead to greater financial issues and further marginalization.