US Kids Feel Grown-up Stress in Slumping Economy

by VR Sreeraman on  April 6, 2009 at 1:02 PM Child Health News   - G J E 4
Children across the United States are feeling the impact of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

In just one example Demetri Wolfe-Maris, a proud young man, in the grimmest economy in three generations, has landed a job. And he's only 10-years-old.
 US Kids Feel Grown-up Stress in Slumping Economy
US Kids Feel Grown-up Stress in Slumping Economy

"He's been working for a neighbor of ours, counting coins. He makes five dollars an hour and feels proud because he doesn't have to ask me for money," his mother, Abebi Wolfe, 34 who has been out of work for a year, told AFP.

Last month, after Demetri learned that his father, who does not live with the family, had lost his job too, the fifth grader went to see the counsellor at his elementary school in northwest Washington.

"The counsellor told me that Demetri came in with a very heavy heart, saying he wanted to get a job to help his family," Wolfe said.

The young boy had everything worked out. He would go to the McDonald's six blocks from his home where he was certain he was capable of serving burgers and fries with the best of them.

But, at 10 going on 11, Demetri is too young to work under US law, the counsellor explained to him.

In the largely working class city of Pueblo, Colorado, a school counsellor named Nancy organised a collection to help four siblings, aged five to 10, after she noticed them coming to school hungry and tired.

"Their mom had lost her job and the kids were staying up until midnight, helping her to make stuff to sell so that they could buy food," Nancy told AFP.

"I got people to donate money and we bought them a month's worth of groceries -- enough to tide them over until the mother got a new job," she said.

More and more children are taking advantage of the Pueblo public school system's free breakfasts, she said.

"There are so many kids who are affected by this economic crisis. It's outrageous... we're one of the richest nations in the world," she said.

Children notice stress in the family and, in this era of instant information, have easy access to media reports of rising unemployment and hard times.

"Demetri watched the news and heard the job loss statistics, not really understanding what it all meant," said Wolfe.

"What he did understand is that two people he cared for had lost their jobs," she said.

Young children can "feel they are somehow responsible" when they notice stress levels rising at home as a parent is laid-off, said Wendy Blome, a professor at the school of social service at Catholic University in Washington.

"Older kids' anxiety may present in different ways, like 'I'll get a job or we'll cut back,'" she said.

Diamond Patterson, 16, recently got a part-time job at a children's play place and restaurant in a Washington suburb.

"The economy is tight, my mom has bills to pay and I wanted to help her out as much as I could, even though she keeps telling me that my only job should be going to school," Diamond told AFP.

Other teens are dropping out of school altogether, even though a high school diploma is the bare minimum needed to "ensure future success" in these dire economic times, said a report by the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy.

The report, which looked at the drop-out rate in the northeastern state of Massachusetts where one in five students does not complete high school, said the reason given most often by school leaders for why students quit before getting their diploma was "home/family issues."

"By that, the principals meant that kids had to leave because they had to help support their families," Jill Norton, executive director of the Rennie Center, told AFP.

The slumping economy also means children are at greater risk of abuse and neglect, said Blome.

"We know historically that child abuse and neglect tend to track unemployment rates, so as one goes up, the other goes up," she said.

"People who work in child welfare are concerned that states might cut child abuse and neglect prevention programs in an attempt to balance their budgets," she said.

"The effects of that won't be seen for awhile, but there's a good deal of concern."

Source: AFP

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