Short term school closures will have longterm consequences—here's why

It's making inequality worse for the most vulnerable kids.

Short term school closures will have longterm consequences—here's why

Right now parents are just trying to survive day-to-day. Six months into this pandemic things are still very hard for many people and it's hard to think beyond tomorrow. But a new study suggests that lawmakers and school divisions should be looking to the future because the educational interruptions happening today could have a lasting impact on a generation and our nation's economic future.

The study, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that school closures—which it defined as students not attending school, even for remote learning—could affect students' future earning potential.

In the frenzy to stop the spread of the coronavirus in March and April, state officials issued stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders that closed schools. School districts had to quickly shuffle to set up online learning platforms, but the switch was far from smooth. Many students didn't log on for virtual class for weeks at a time — particularly students from lower-income families who might not have access to reliable high-speed internet or other resources necessary for online learning.

It seems that some students may not have even logged on at all, missing the last few months of the spring semester.

The NBER study modeled "school and child care closures as a reduction in the governmental investment in children corresponding to six fewer months of schooling." It found that six months of closures, "could result in an average 1% less earned every year over a worker's lifetime," according to Marketwatch.

It found that, on average, the share of children 4 to 14 who don't get a high school degree in the future will increase 3.8%, and the share of children who get a college degree will drop by 2.7%. The economic impact will also be worse for younger children, who have more time before they enter the job market. A 6-year-old, for example, could lose $10,300 while a 10-year-old might lose $6,410 "after they join the labor market and stay there for approximately 45 years," according to Marketwatch's analysis.

Kids will also be affected unevenly based on their parents' income bracket: "Broadly speaking, children with poorer parents suffer more," the study says. "First, even without any parental adjustments in investments, children from lower-income households suffer more from the school closures, since for them a larger part of educational investment comes from the government. Second, as a reaction to the school closures, rich parents increase their investment into children by more than poor parents."

That makes even more sense when you take into account April data collected by the Pew Research Center, which found that about half of upper-income parents (51%) said "their elementary, middle or high school children have received a lot of online instruction since their school closed" while only about 38% of parents in a lower-income tier said the same. In fact, Pew found that 29% of parents with lower incomes said their children's school "provided not much or no instruction" since schools closed in the spring, versus just 13% of parents in the upper-income bracket.

All this data taken together reinforces a recurring theme of the pandemic: that its impact has been incredibly unequal. Black people and people with lower incomes have disproportionately been infected and killed by the coronavirus. Though the NBER study did not break down the economic impact by race, it does show that the children of lower-income families will be more affected by school closures, and that the children of parents who have lost income due to the virus will also be affected more (and it's worth noting that data shows communities of color have been hit hardest economically as well).

The NBER study does note that schools closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and their data doesn't model the "potential health benefits of these closures." But a July study published by JAMA found that the closures may have saved the lives of 40,000 people, Marketwatch reported.

So what can be done about this and what can parents who are already at capacity do to change this? According to experts we need our lawmakers to disrupt educational inequity. Parents can't do this on their own, but they can vote and hold government officials to task on inequity. Policy changes and funding are needed to ensure that the nation's most vulnerable kids have the chance to grow, learn and earn as much as their wealthier peers.

Jo Yurcaba is a writer and editor living in central North Carolina. They cover women's health, LGBTQ+ rights, and politics. When they're not writing, they're usually riding horses or eating lots of southern food.

In This Article

    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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