Racial/Ethnic Differences in Children’s Mental Health: The Role of Economic Downturns

Tim-Allen Bruckner, University of California, Irvine
Yonsu Kim, University of California, Irvine

Visits for emergency psychiatric care may gauge severe mental disorder in a population. Non-Hispanic black children— more than any other race/ethnicity— rely on emergency psychiatric care. One hypothesized cause of this overrepresentation involves their sensitivity to economic downturns. We test this hypothesis by examining whether the black/white difference in the use of psychiatric emergency services increases in months when the regional economy contracts. We applied time-series methods to California Medicaid mental health data for youth aged 5 to 21 years, from 1999 to 2008. We find that, following mass layoffs, black youths use more emergency mental health services than do non-Hispanic whites. Exploration among Hispanic youths also finds a relatively higher incidence of emergency services (compared to non-Hispanic whites) during increased layoffs. Economic downturns may exert a “ripple effect” on youth who by and large do not participate in the labor force. This effect, moreover, may concentrate among racial/ethnic minorities.

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Presented in Session 28: Economic Downturns and Children's Outcomes