By: Michelle Pineda-Espinoza, MSW Candidate & Janaki Santhiveeran, Ph.D., Full Professor, School of Social Work, CSULB
Who is experiencing the highest emotional distress? Unemployed or poor? We looked at various groups’ emotional distress, including groups formed by employment status, financial well-being, and Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Using a research study of 2,954 adults, we examined the state of emotional distress experienced by various groups of mothers and fathers. The data was retrieved from an adult survey from the 2020 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS 2020)a.
The study sample included 1846 mothers (62.5%) and 1108 fathers (37.5%) who had young children. Most of the sample were employed (77.6%), and the rest reported being unemployed (22.4%). The income of the respondents included less than $39,999 (18.2%), $40,000–$119,999 (38.2%) and over $120,000 (43.6%). Parents’ poverty level included 300% Federal Poverty level (FPL) and above (63.1%), 200-299% FPL (11.9%), 100-199% FPL (14.6%) and 0-99% FPL (10.3%). Only 6.3% received food stamps.
The study found statistically significant association between employment status and emotional distress (t = -4.6; df = 2952; p = <.001) with unemployed parents (M = 4.7) had greater emotional distress than employed parents (M = 3.9). A statistically significant association was found between income and emotional distress (t = -31.8; df = 2; p = <.001). Parents making less than $39,999 (M = 5.1) had greater emotional distress than parents making 40,000 to 119,000 (M = 4.3) and over 120,000 (M = 3.5). A statistically significant association was found between the poverty level and emotional distress (t = -21.5; df = 3; p = <.001). Parents who are below 99% FPL (M = 5.4) had greater emotional distress than parents who were at 100–199% FPL (M = 4.7), 200-299% FPL (M = 4.4), and above 300% FPL (M = 3.76). A statistically significant association was found between accessing food stamps and emotional distress (t = -5.6; df = 2952; p = <.001). Parents receiving food stamps (M = 5.7) reported greater emotional distress than parents who did not receive food stamps (M = 3.9).
This research noted several key findings. The study found an association between the role of financial hardship and parents’ emotional distress. Poor parents who received food stamps reported the greatest distress, followed by parents below 99% FPL and unemployed parents. What struck us the most was that those parents who are not earning enough money to live above the poverty line had higher emotional distress. Why do poor parents have the highest emotional
distress compared to other groups?
This study is relevant to social work practice because social workers need to be culturally competent when working with parents and their families based on the National Association of Social Workers (NASW; 2021) Code of Ethics. According to the Code of Ethics, social workers should understand the nature of social diversity and the oppression people face due to unemployment and lack of income. What is the role of social workers in helping these parents who actively raise young children? Social workers must be aware of the barriers and externalizing problems affecting parents. Social workers have a professional responsibility to advocate for and empower parents struggling with emotional well-being. Therefore, social workers need to provide community networks, educate parents, and connect to social support. Social workers can develop interventions focused on parents to help address stress management skills to reduce job search and parenting stress. Social workers should promote protective factors such as parental resilience, social-emotional competence, understanding child development, concrete support, and social support.
a California Health Interview Survey. (2020). CHIS 2019-2020 adult public use file (Release 1). UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.