Nearly 13,000 children face deep poverty from loss of family work supports
By Kim Justice and Lori Pfingst
On February 1, 2011, over 5,000 families, including nearly 13,000 children will lose critical support through the WorkFirst program, which provides resources and services to help low-income parents be successful in the work force. The Governor’s plan will eliminate assistance for families who are participating in approved work activities to maintain eligibility, but are nearing the 60-month time limit for the program (1).
State should be doing more, not less to help families secure employment
During a time when our state’s unemployment is at a record high, the state should be doing more to help families secure employment. Congress and our state legislature recognized the importance of extending unemployment benefits to unemployed workers due to the Great Recession (HB 1906, 2009). This consideration should also be given to low-income families, who have been disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn.
Loss of benefits would wreak havoc on a family’s budget
Figure 1 shows the impact of losing WorkFirst benefits on the budget for a family of three living in Seattle. The family’s only cash resource without WorkFirst would be food stamps, a total of $426. A family would be $1,373 short of the resources needed to meet their other basic needs, including rent, housing, and transportation.
Source: BPC analysis of NCCP Family Resource Simulator. The analysis assumes: family of three (one parent, one preschool and one school-age child) living in Seattle; children are in licensed child care; and the family receives the following work supports when eligible: Working Connections Child Care, Basic Food (food stamps), and public health insurance.
WorkFirst families are at a greater disadvantage in a tight job market
Recipients of WorkFirst are at a greater disadvantage than others when it comes to competing in the job market due to factors such as:
- Low levels of education: Of families that have been on WorkFirst for 60 months or more, 37 percent have less than a high school education (2).
- Lack of attachment to the workforce: Of a cohort of parents who were on WorkFirst in 2007 with no break longer than a month, only 21 percent reported any employment in 2009 (3).
- Barriers that prevent secure employment: Families who stay on the program for longer periods of time are more likely to have chronic illness, substance abuse, and mental illness.
Increased poverty has staggering social and economic effects
Child poverty has far-reaching effects. While the toll on individual children is large, the social and economic costs to society are also significant (4):
- Economy: Recent estimates suggest that children who grow up in poverty cost the U.S. at least $500 billion annually in the form of decreased economic output as adults, involvement with crime, and the costs associated with poor health outcomes. Washington’s share of this loss is $8.7 billion a year.
- Education: Low income students are less likely to meet standards on every WASL subject and less likely to graduate from high school and attend college than higher income students.
- Family & Community: Children from poor and low income backgrounds are more likely to experience abuse, become a teen parent, and to enter the child welfare system than children in economically secure families.
- Health: Low income children are less likely to have health insurance than their economically secure peers.
- Safety and Security: Children from poor and low income families are more likely to enter the juvenile justice system.
1 Exceptions to the time limit exist for parents who are disabled, caring for a disabled family member, families who are addressing family violence issues, families who have open child welfare cases that involve a child in dependency for the first time, relative caregivers over the age of 55, and parents who are working full-time.
2 Demographic Profile of TANF Extension Adult Population, June 2010 Cohort: Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, August 2010
3 Adult on TANF in Washington State: Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, August 2010
4 Lori Pfingst, et al. (2009) State of Washington’s Children 2009: Poverty and the Future of Children and Families in Washington State. Washington KIDS COUNT/Human Services Policy Center. University of Washington: Seattle, WA