The Impact of Unemployment on Child Maltreatment in the United States

Sep 2017 | 837

Authors: Daniel Brown, Elisabetta De Cao


In this paper, we show that unemployment increases child neglect in the United States during the period from 2004 to 2012. A one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate leads to a 20 percent increase in neglect. We identify this effect by instrumenting for the county-level unemployment rate with a Bartik instrument, which we create as the weighted average of the national-level unemployment rates across each of twenty industries, where the weights are the county-level fraction of the employed working-age population in each industry at the start of the sample period. An important mechanism behind this effect is that parents lack social and private safety nets. The effect on neglect is smaller in states that introduce longer extensions to unemployment benefits, and is greater in counties where an initially larger fraction of children are not covered by health insurance. We find no evidence that the effect is driven by alcohol consumption or divorce.

JEL Codes: I10, J12, J13, J65, K42

Keywords: child abuse and neglect, unemployment rate, recession, safety net, unemployment insurance

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