Study: Unemployment dragging down student test scores

A seemingly happy eighth-grade girl.

She seems happy, but the stress of dad's unemployment could be hiding behind that smile. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Vicci/Moon Stars and Paper)

According to a new interdisciplinary academic study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the stress of unemployment hits children hard. The study, entitled “Children Left Behind: The Effect of Statewide Job Loss On Student Achievement,” finds a correlation between community job loss and decreased performance on math and reading scores, reports the Huffington Post. This applies to the children of both the unemployed and the employed.

Significant effects on academic performance

In analyzing the math and reading test scores taken from fourth- and eighth-grade sample groups compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, the study found that the stress of unemployment had significant effects. Specifically, for every 1 percent of a state’s working age population that is unemployed, the average math test score declined by 3 percent.

Study co-author Dr. Elizabeth Ananat of Duke University’s Public Policy and Economics department sees how uncertainty can create anxiety.

“Research has found that the stress and anxiety of losing your job is actually not so much greater than the stress of worrying about losing your job,” she said. “When there is a lot of job loss going on, the community gets depressed, and anxious. … That makes it harder for kids to learn.”

Growth recession indicates no real improvement

The current state of the U.S. labor market does not indicate to economic experts that a turnaround is in store, and thus the study authors expect the negative student achievement trend to continue. As many as 13.9 million Americans are officially unemployed, and another 8.5 million pursuing full-time work have had to settle for part-time jobs. Millions more face a kind of unemployment coma that keeps them from looking because of discouragement.

“When kids are at vulnerable times in their development, the impact of events like this can have long-lasting consequences,” Ananat said.

Low test scores in particular can remain on a child’s record for years, as numerous NBER studies have shown before.

‘The tip of the iceberg’

Study co-author Dr. Anna Gassman-Pines of Duke University said actions such as lowering class size can help counteract the negative effect of unemployment somewhat. However, many schools don’t have the economic means to make such changes.

Co-author Dr. Christina Gibson-Davis suggested that while the NBER’s test-score findings imply a problem, the implications likely run deeper.

“These are just test scores — not the greatest measure of the kids’ behavior,” Gibson Davis said. “This is probably the tip of the iceberg.”

Such scenarios as parents working multiple part-time jobs and multiple families living in the same household are no doubt issues that also contribute to the general sense of stress, experts believe.

Unemployment is a family affair


Huffington Post

National Bureau of Economic Research

Other recent posts by bryanh