COVID-19, employment stress and student vulnerability in Australia

Low socioeconomic status Unemployment Well-being Early childhood development Australia

This report uses census data and the Grattan Institute’s unemployment modelling to examine how and where children will be impacted by employment stress. The results are sobering. We estimate that the number of preschool and school children living with employment stress in the family has more than doubled nationally, with many regions experiencing increases of 200-300%.

Lower-income families will be hit hardest, but job and income loss will be felt across all socio-economic groups and regions. Outer suburban areas and regional areas that are reliant on the hardest hit industries will also be profoundly impacted. Even with measures in place to speed up economic recovery, reducing levels of unemployment and underemployment could be a slow process.

This report examines the impact of employment stress on children’s learning, development, health and wellbeing. It provides an overview of international evidence, including research covering previous recessions.

The evidence shows that the impact of employment stress on children’s outcomes can be profound. Children whose parents are experiencing involuntary unemployment can be 15% more likely to repeat a grade at school, more likely to leave school early, and less likely to attend university. Parental unemployment is also associated with increased probability of a range of health and wellbeing challenges for children and young people, including greater social isolation, poorer nutrition and a higher prevalence of social and emotional issues.

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