A recent report from The Brookings Institution estimates that across the country, 5 million additional children will fall into poverty as a result of the current recession. In 2007, Shelby county already had an alarmingly high rate of impoverish children, with an estimated 15 percent of all children ages 0-17 living in dire poverty. In Memphis, that estimation is at 21 percent—1 in every 5 children living in dire poverty (with family incomes less than roughly $10,000 a year).
Children who grow up in poverty lag behind their middle class counterparts in both cognitive and behavioral development. Since the most sensitive period for brain development is before the age of five, it is especially disturbing that nearly a quarter of all pre-school age children in Memphis (23 percent) live in dire poverty. Recent analyses demonstrate that children in families that fall below the poverty line during a recession are less likely to graduate from high school or go on to college than children in families that remained above the poverty line. While some observers see the rise in benefit applications as a signal that our social safety net is working, others see it as a sign of a worsening situation. As the labor market changes and job growth remains stagnant, a true estimate of the economic effect of the current recession on children is yet to be seen.
The jobless rate in the state of Tennessee has almost doubled in the last year, rising from 6.4 to 11 percent. By July 2009, unemployment in Memphis had reached 11.6 percent, higher than state and national averages, meaning that more and more children in our community are living in financially strained households. Across the country, 10.5 million children are estimated to have at least one unemployed parent; that is one out of every seven children in the United States. Children of unemployed parents are more likely to experience increased levels of toxic stress associated with homelessness, domestic abuse, and poverty.