CHICAGO (Reuters) - Hard economic times are hitting the United States' youngest citizens, threatening to roll back decades worth of gains in health, safety and education, according to a report released on Monday.
It suggests the country's most severe recession in a generation, which has cost more than 5 million American jobs since it began in late 2007, is having a drastic impact on children.
"Our projections show that virtually all the progress made in family economic well-being since 1975 will be wiped out," Ken Land of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and colleagues wrote in 2009 Child Well-Being Index and Special Focus Report.
The annual report, sponsored by the Foundation for Child Development, a private child advocacy group, measures economic, health, safety and social factors affecting children and teens.
Based on current estimates, the report projects that the current recession will pare median annual family incomes back to $55,700 by 2010, down from $59,200 in 2007.
Households run by single women will see their annual incomes fall to $23,000 in 2010, down from $24,950 in 2007.
But the steepest drop will be among single households headed by men, where median annual family income is expected to drop to $33,300 in 2010, from $38,100 in 2007.
These declines in family income will affect many other aspects of life for children in America.
"Many families that have built a life around two-earner incomes now have one income or perhaps no income, so children in those families are being impacted by the current economic environment," Land said in a telephone interview.
He said the percentage of children in poverty will rise to 21 percent in 2010, up from about 17 percent in 2006.
The researchers said the housing crisis will disrupt social relationships for children, as job losses cause families to uproot in search of work and less-costly housing. Many families are at greater risk of homelessness.
Children's health also will suffer, they said.
They foresee increases in an already growing obesity epidemic as parents turn to cheap fast food to feed their families.
One bright spot, they said, is the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which will at least ensure that many poor children get needed health care.
Based on trends in prior recessions, they said rates of violent crime will likely rise, hurt by police force cuts and cuts in juvenile crime prevention programs.
They also predict fewer children will be taking part in early childhood education programs, which are known to raise student test scores.
Black and Latino children, whose communities tend to be more sensitive to economic fluctuations, will be affected most by these changes.
"When the economy is doing well, their well-being gains are more dramatic. When the economy slumps, they are harder hit than their white counterparts because more children of color live in poverty to begin with," Ruby Takanishi, president of the foundation, said in a statement.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Jackie Frank