Bad Grades? Blame the Unemployment Rate, Even if You're Still Working

no child left behind, financial crisis
Bad economy = bad grades, no matter how you do the math.

If your child’s end-of-year report card is showing less-than-stellar grades, you might want to blame the economy.

A new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that as unemployment goes up, grades go down. And not just among kids whose parents have lost their jobs. All kids tend to get lower grades.

Duke University researchers looked at test scores around the country. What they found was that in areas where unemployment is particularly high, test scores tended to be lower, even for children whose parents were still working.

This economic stress affected children as young as nine years-old, but teens were hit particularly hard — and especially in math.

Okay, but why? Time magazine’s Curious Capitalist pulled out a few reasons that one child’s unemployed mom could mean a lower test score for her classmate. And also how this connection between unemployment and performance reverberates for years.


First of all, studies have shown that when teachers are more stressed students tend to do perform worse. Also, even if a student’s parents haven’t lost their job, in a community with high-unemployment it is likely that the child will be in a classroom with other kids whose parents are out of work. The researchers say that children under stress at home can cause problems in the classroom, which hurts all the students’ ability to learn. Lastly, high unemployment can cause foreclosures and property values in an area to fall. And since most school districts get their money from property taxes, lower revenue can cause schools to cut programs and under perform.


A 2 percent unemployment rate, according to the study, can cause a school failure rate of 16 percent. And most of that, they argue, isn’t from teacher performance or educational philosophy — it’s from unemployment.

I think this could also be an argument to boost socio-economic diversity in the nation’s classrooms. It’s also an argument for higher spending on education, not less. If nine-year olds aren’t getting the education they need, they’re going to carry it into high school and beyond. The economy will recover at some point. The question is whether the children of this economy will eventually, too.

Photo: born2bmild via flickr

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