In Tough Times, Middle Class Families Rely on Public Programs, Report Says

Filed under: In The News

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Preschool and health insurance are two factors found to be crucial to a child's future well-being. Credit: Getty

If you're having trouble making ends meet these days, you're probably among the growing ranks of parents whose income has decreased in these tough economic times.

The income gap between middle-class and high-income families has grown by more than 50 percent since 1985, and middle-class parents are increasingly relying on public health and education programs to help support their children, according to a new study released by the Foundation for Child Development.

The income gap in real family income between middle-class families (with annual income between $22,758 and $110,000) and high-income families is substantial, reaching $93,100 in 2008 -- an increase of $33,300 from the 1985 level of $59,800, the FCD reports.

But while income has dropped for middle-class families and the proportion of single-parent households has increased, the rates of health insurance coverage and pre-kindergarten enrollment for these children have steadily risen. These numbers suggest public health and education programs have stepped in to provide critical services for children that their parents cannot afford or take for granted, according to the report.

The findings lead some experts to question what being middle class really means these days.

"We used to think of it as having the capacity to pay for a lot of basic needs and services, and that's less and less the case from the point of view of children and the increasing need they have to depend on government programs to get basic early education and health care," Donald Hernandez, author of the FCD report, tells the Huffington Post.

The numbers point to worsening conditions for children in the United States. The child poverty rate increased to 20.7 percent in 2009, from 19 percent in 2008, which makes it the highest of any age group. And, for middle-class children, factors such as the growing proportion of single-parent households and households without a securely-employed parent suggest social relationships -- and not just economic conditions -- have also deteriorated for these families between 1985 and 2008.

Hernandez tells the Huffington Post he's concerned that budget cuts currently proposed by federal, state and local governments will severely curtail the safety net that is supporting middle-class children just when they need it most.

"Even today, one in 10 middle-class children are not covered by health insurance, and about half of young children in the middle class are not enrolled in pre-K programs," he tells the website. "There's still a long way to go, and my fear is that big budget cuts in the coming months and year or two, or however long these economic issues continue, will really have a very negative and devastating effect on these children."

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