Fidgety boys, sputtering economy

Fidgety boys end up as unemployed men, writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times.

The gender gap in school readiness is wider than the gap between low-income and middle-class kids, researchers say. Boys are more likely to struggle in school, college and the workforce.

By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys, according to a new paper from Third Way, a Washington research group. The gap grows over the course of elementary school and feeds into academic gaps between the sexes.

The gender gap in school readiness is wider than the gap between low-income and middle-class kids, researchers say. Boys are more likely to struggle in school, college and the workforce.

In the last 25 years, the portion of women earning a four-year college degree has jumped more than 75 percent and women’s median earnings are up almost 35 percent. Men’s earnings haven’t risen at all, writes Leonhardt. “Men are much more likely to be idle — neither working, looking for work nor caring for family — than they once were and much more likely to be idle than women.”

Some blame the surge in single-parent families for the “boy crisis.” Girls who grow up with one parent — usually a mother — do almost as well as girls from two-parent families. Boys do much worse.

Others say schools aren’t boy friendly. In elementary school classrooms, fidgety boys are expected to sit still and pay attention to the female teacher.

More children live in poverty

The child poverty rate soared to 20 percent because of the recession, according to the Kids Count analysis of children’s well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“The recent recession has wiped out many of the economic gains for children that occurred in the late 1990s,” said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the Casey Foundation, as the report was released Wednesday. “Nearly 8 million children lived with at least one parent who was actively seeking employment but was unemployed in 2010. This is double the number in 2007, just three years earlier.”

The wave of foreclosures has increased housing problems for families with children.

Some 42 percent of children live in families under economic pressure, which Kids Count defines as $43,512 a year, or twice the federal poverty line for a family of four. That’s “a minimum needed for most families to make ends meet,” Speer says.

New Hampshire (11 percent), Minnesota (14 percent), and Massachusetts (13 percent) have the least child poverty, while Alabama (25 percent), Louisiana (24 percent), and Mississippi (31 percent) have the most.

While more children are living in poverty and in single-parent families, some child well-being factors have improved since 2000, including infant and child mortality, the teen birth rate and the dropout rate.