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Family Eviction Linked to Poor Health in Children

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shows families with children facing or experiencing eviction have poorer health than those who do not.
  • Inflation and other economic realities damage families at or below the poverty line further.
  • Experts say the ending of the COVID-19 eviction moratorium impacts families in crisis disproportionally, and policy changes must be made to curtail further damage.

It’s no secret, it’s a tough economy right now. Inflation is high. Prices at the supermarket are skyrocketing. Gas prices have been through the roof. The cost of living is up and it has made it very hard for families to pay for it all. For some families, paying the rent or paying for food is the hard reality they have to face.

A groundbreaking new study released in Pediatrics on Sept. 19, 2022, showed family evictions have been linked to poor health and hunger in children and families, especially those with children under 4 years old. Those families also have children who have more frequently been admitted to hospitals via emergency rooms.

Additionally, mothers who have been evicted are more likely to report depressive symptoms. These eviction conditions are compounded by rising inflation, as well as the increase in the cost of groceries and other necessities. Researchers found that changing policies related to eviction, as well as bolstering health care and other community supports, is necessary to address harmful health impacts.

Eviction Hits Families with Children Hardest

Each year, nearly 2 million U.S. households are evicted or otherwise displaced. Families with children are especially at risk. The rate increases with each additional child, according to the Pediatrics study.

The study surveyed more than 26,000 caregivers in Baltimore, Boston, Little Rock, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis. It found that 3.9% reported an eviction in the previous five years. Of those who were evicted, 57% faced formal, legal eviction, while an additional 43% faced “informal evictions,” which occur outside of courts and are often missed in eviction research.

Troublingly, the children of these families faced ill outcomes at a higher rate than the general population. These include worse health, developmental delays, homelessness, food insecurity, and inadequate healthcare and childcare.

Eviction During and Post-Pandemic

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an eviction moratorium to help control the spread of the virus, as well as to ease the suffering of families struggling to make ends meet while under the shutdown. The CDC hoped that the moratorium would help to increase vaccination rates as the pandemic worsened. Eviction Lab, a resource affiliated with Princeton University, released data that showed under the moratoriums, evictions fell 50% below the pre-pandemic averages, preventing 1.36 million cases from being filed.
However, when the moratorium ended on August 26, 2021, evictions began to rapidly rise. In an interview with The New Republic, Peter Hepburn, a research fellow at Eviction Lab, reported that evictions in some places have, “exceeded 100 percent of the historical average.”

Why Eviction Is a Health Concern

Diana Cutts, MD, the chair of pediatrics at Hennepin Healthcare, spearheaded the study into families facing eviction focusing on those with children under the age of four. She explains that for both caregivers and children, eviction is not just displacement, but a major stressor and health event. The study indicates families with children are at a higher risk of eviction.

Diana Cutts, MD

Families with children are at high risk of eviction, increasing with each additional child because families often face discrimination from landlords, despite this not being legal.

— Diana Cutts, MD

“[Eviction rates] increase with each additional child because families often face discrimination from landlords, despite this [being against federal law],” Dr. Cutts explains. “Families with children are a protected class, called ‘familial status,’ under the Federal Fair Housing Act.”

While most studies look at so-called “formal evictions,” many in Dr. Cutts’s study, especially families with children, experienced “informal evictions,” which are not court-mediated.

“Most studies on eviction rely on court data, there is a very significant underestimation of how often eviction occurs,” Dr. Cutts explains. “This means that the poor outcomes associated with an eviction are often unrecognized.”

Eviction can lead to various health consequences for families, all related to being without stable housing, including overcrowded housing, homelessness, less social support, disruption of established routines, and more. “Following eviction, families may live in neighborhoods with few healthcare facilities, and experience hazardous environmental exposures,” says Dr. Cutts. All of these factors are associated with negative health outcomes.

In children, psychological health may also be damaged by eviction. Early childhood is a crucial time of development for children’s brains and bodies. “Our study challenges any assumption that children this age can be protected from or are too young to experience the negative impacts of eviction,” Dr. Cutts explains. “Rather, they are found to be quite vulnerable, with potential long-term harm.”

The study shows young children in families that had experienced eviction within the last five years were 43% more likely to be in poor health, 55% more likely to be at risk for developmental delays, and 24% more likely to be sick enough when seen in the emergency room to be admitted to the hospital.

Parents and caregivers also suffer while facing eviction—those who were evicted in the last five years are almost twice as likely to be in fair or poor health, and nearly three times as likely to report depressive symptoms. “We know that caregivers and children’s health are tightly interrelated—when caregivers are not healthy, they are not able to bring their best selves to parenting, and children are more likely to be in poor health as well,” says Dr. Cutts.

The study shows that after evictions occur, families are four times as likely to be behind on rent, and more than five times as likely to be homeless in their children’s lifetime. Further, evicted families were found to be three times as likely to be household food insecure, and almost three times as likely to experience child food insecurity—the most severe food insecurity among families, in which children must skip or reduce meals.

“Our data are from before the pandemic and the recent surge in hardship, so we know that child and family health are being further impacted by these more recent economic changes. We’ve heard from families how hard it has been to cope with the increasing cost of living at a time of tremendous employment destabilization. I see relentless fatigue, worry, and stress on parents’ faces as they bring their children to the clinic for care,” Dr. Cutts adds.

Other Economic Health Concerns

The eviction crisis comes as families struggle to make ends meet in the current economic climate. According to the Consumer Price Index Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest report released in August 2022, inflation overall increased 8.3% over the past year, with shelter, food, and medical care indexes accounting for the largest increase. The food at home index is up 13.5% in the last twelve months. This is corroborated by a report by NBC: food prices were at a 40-year high in May. The medical care inflation index is up 5.6%.

“In many cases, multiple families must resort to living with one another in tight quarters due to high living expenses, which can increase the risk of airborne contagions and negatively affect a child’s behavior and even development,” says Zishan Khan, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.

Caregivers with young children, already struggling with their mental health due to the possibility of being unable to pay for housing, must often decide whether to pay for food for their families or for rent. “Inflation has led to rising cost for goods, straining the already tight budget many families had,” Dr. Khan says.

Tight budgets mean families are unable to afford groceries, especially when costs have increased. “Families’ ability to afford food is tightly related to their ability to afford housing and other needs. When one cost increases, like housing, it squeezes everything else. Often the family food budget is the place that gets most affected because it’s the one that is most flexible,” says Dr. Cutts.

When there isn’t money for groceries, families turn to other food options. “It often leads to parents resorting to cheaper fast food options that lack healthy choices on their menus and lack balanced nutrition,” says Dr. Khan.

The limited availability of childcare compounds the problem. The National Child Care Association stated in a newsletter from September 12, 2022, that 51% of children ages 0 to 6 live in communities that have more children than licensed child care spaces available. Additionally, a survey of parents on Care.com reported the cost of babysitting and daycare is up between 5 and 15%.

Meeting the basic needs of a family can be stressful for caregivers living on the edge of poverty. “As a pediatrician, I see how housing and the ability to afford basic needs affect the health of my patients and their families,” Dr. Cutts says.

Resources For Renters Who Fear Eviction

If you or a loved one is facing eviction, there are resources available. Here are just some.

  • The National Housing Law Project offers both advocacy and litigation, as well as a comprehensive list of COVID-19, Federal Budget, and Public Housing Resources; various vouchers (Project-Based, Project-Based Rental, and Section 8 Housing); Elderly and Disabled Persons’ Section 202 and 811 Program resources, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, and USDA Rural Housing Programs resources.
  • Eviction Lab has a robust resources page, for help finding a lawyer, and information on the Housing Court process.
  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers rent relief resources.

What This Means For You

According to a new study published in Pediatrics, families with young children who are at a higher risk of eviction stand to lose more than their home, including their mental and physical health. The situation is being exacerbated by inflation and the cost of basic needs. If you are facing eviction, or are struggling with rent, help is available.

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