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In the last four decades, the demographic groups that have faced the steepest declines in earnings and employment have been among those most likely to be nonresident parents: men who are less-educated, minority, and non-urban. More recently, this group was also the hardest hit by the Great Recession and has yet to recover their pre-recession earnings. The authors study what the confluence of these trends means for the financial health of nonresident fathers. About 55 percent of vulnerable nonresident fathers earn less than $20,000 a year, and the authors estimate that between 66 and 72 percent of nonresident fathers are financially vulnerable, meaning they would be in debt after meeting basic needs and paying child support obligations. Financial vulnerability among non-resident fathers varies significantly across race and educational attainment. Based on data from Wisconsin and Illinois, about 52 and 64 percent of non-Hispanic white and black nonresident fathers are financially vulnerable, respectively, compared to about 73 percent of Hispanic nonresident fathers. Nine out of ten nonresident fathers who are financially vulnerable have less than a bachelor’s degree, and since 2006 these men actually became more likely to be unemployed or work only part time. The high rate of financial vulnerability among these fathers means that only a minority—30 percent—meet their child support payments on a regular basis. The authors propose that allowing fathers to deduct a share of their income from their child support obligations would serve as a buffer against vulnerability and empower them to meet obligations in the future.
Dr. Ronald Mincy directs the Center for Research on Fathers, Children and Family Well-Being. Dr. Mincy is also a co-principal investigator of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, and a faculty member of the Columbia Population Research Center (CPRC). He came to the University in 2001 from the Ford Foundation where he served as a senior program officer and worked on such issues as improving U.S. social welfare policies for low-income fathers, especially child support, and workforce development policies; he also served on the Clinton Administration’s Welfare Reform Task Force. He is an advisory board member for the National Poverty Center, University of Michigan; Technical Work Group for the Office of Policy Research and Evaluation (OPRE); Transition to Fatherhood, Cornell University; the National Fatherhood Leaders Group; the Longitudinal Evaluation of the Harlem Children’s Zone; and The Economic Mobility Project, Pew Charitable Trusts. Dr. Mincy is also a former member of the Council, National Institute of Child and Human Development and the Policy Council, Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, co-chair of the Grantmakers Income Security Taskforce, and a board member of the Grantmakers for Children, Youth, and Families.
Hyunjoon Um is a doctoral student studying Social Policy Analysis at Columbia University School of Social Work. His research interests include child support policy, fatherhood, child development, and family well-being. He is currently working with Dr. Ronald Mincy on analyzing the long-term effect of fathers' earnings on children's academic and social skills. Hyunjoon Um holds a BA in Economics from Handong University and an MSW from Columbia University.
*This working paper was made possible by the US 2050 project, supported by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.