WASHINGTON, Jun 3 (IPS) – U.S. children’s quality of life is expected to decline through 2010 due to the impacts of the financial crisis, said a new report by the Foundation for Child Development (FDC), released on Wednesday.

According to the report, progress in U.S. children’s quality of life has fluctuated since 2002, and began a decline in 2008 as a result of the recession.

The Child Well-Being Index (CWI) is an annual evidence-based composite measure of trends over time in the quality of life for U.S. children from birth to age 18 conducted by Duke University’s Foundation for Child Development Child and Youth Well-Being Index Project. It tracks changes as compared to 1975 base year values.

This year, the Project also produced a Special Focus Report that offers projections of the impact the recession is likely to have on children’s well-being through 2010, based on analysis of past recessions.

‘America is doing a really bad job relative to other countries,’ said Reihan Salam, a fellow at the New America Foundation, referring to the well-being of U.S. children.

According to the CWI, although the recession is predicted to end in 2010, the well-being of children is not expected to improve during that time period.

The percentage of children in poverty is expected to peak at 21 percent and more than eight million children, or 27 percent, are expected to have at least one parent working full-time year-round in 2010.

For all families, the median annual family income (in constant 2007 dollars) is expected to decline from 59,200 dollars in 2007, to about 55,700 dollars in 2010. For single female-headed households, median annual family income is expected to decline from 24,050 dollars to 23,000 dollars.

The most severe impact will be from single male-headed households, where median annual family income is expected to decline from 38,100 dollars to 33,300 dollars. This may be attributed to the higher job loss rate during recession among males, according to Kenneth C. Land, project coordinator for the CWI.

Low-income African American and Latino children are expected to be more affected by the economic downturn than their white counterparts.

While the overall impact of the recession on children’s well-being is expected to resemble similar impacts from recessions past, the current recession will produce several unique trends, according to the index.

While the residential mobility of children normally decreases during an economic recession, due to the severity of the housing crisis of the current recession, there will instead be an increase in the mobility of low-income families, who lose their housing and move or become homeless. Because of this, the peer and other neighbourhood social relationships of children will be negatively impacted.

Also, children’s obesity, which has been on the rise for several years, is expected to spike as the recession drives parents to rely on low-cost, often-unhealthy fast food.

Based on historic recessionary trends of budget cuts for policing and juvenile crime prevention, children’s safety and behaviour is expected to fare worse due to higher rates of violent crimes where youth are both victims and perpetrators.

While the suicide rate for children ages 10 to 19 is expected to increase, Land pointed out that this will be counterbalanced by an increase in participation in religious services and in the importance of religious beliefs, which has been characteristic of past recessions.

The CWI is based on a composite of 28 key indicators of well-being, such as the poverty rate, mortality rate, reading test scores, and rate of weekly religious attendance. These indicators are grouped into seven quality of life/well-being domains, which include economic well-being, health, safety, educational attainment, community connectedness, social relationships, and emotional/spiritual well-being.

The current report contains updates for almost all the indicators for 2006 and 2007, and three are available for 2008.

The year 1975 is given the value of 100 and subsequent years are assigned values according to changes in the key indicators. In 2007 the partially projected CWI was 103.17, improving from 102.20 in 2006. In 2008, the CWI is expected to decline to 103.07.

The health insurance indicator will be the least negatively affected by the recession. The total number of children with health insurance is expected to remain just under 90 percent in 2010, due to the provision of a public safety net, by government health insurance policies, for children who are likely to lose private coverage.

Some are hopeful that the new administration of President Barack Obama, who appears focused on children’s welfare and education, will reverse this decline.

‘It is important to remember that for the first time in a long time we have a person who gets it,’ said Barbara Bowman, a consultant to the U.S. Secretary of Education, praising Obama for ‘(understanding) the importance of early childhood care and education.’

However, she cautioned, ‘there is a continued reluctance to see young children as learners’. This has resulted in the ‘education system thinking life begins at (age) nine,’ and a ‘reluctance to invest the kinds of resources we need in early childhood education and care.’

The CWI predicts that the connection children have to their surrounding communities is likely to be negatively impacted by declines in pre-kindergarten (ages three to four years) participation.

‘Children, today, in American society, are an endangered species,’ said Ruby Takanashi, president of the Foundation for Child Development. She added that less than 30 percent of U.S. families have children under the age of 18.

If the present recession pans out like the ones before it, there will be a delay in childbearing, causing an even greater decrease in children, according to Salam.

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