When Parents Lose Jobs, Children Sacrifice

children of the unemployed ABC
children of the unemployed

Children typically don't hold jobs, but that doesn't make them immune to the consequences of the nation's growing unemployment rate. As the recession continues and more parents lose their jobs, many children join the family efforts to make ends meet.

That includes Deanna and Timia Watts of Flatrock, Mich.

Since their mother lost her job and had to sell the family car, Deanna and Tamia have been walking everywhere. A trip to the grocery store takes an hour by foot.

A Day in the Life of Children of Unemployed ParentPlay

"It is a lot harder to get there," Deanna said.

The girls' mom lost her job a year ago.

"She said she lost her job, and I was just in shock," said Deanna. "I want to do something but I can't really, because it's like I'm so limited, I want to get a job, but I can't because of the economic situation going on. … No one is hiring."

Some 900 miles south, in Dothan, Ala., Mychaela Weekley has written a letter to President Obama about how her family has been affected by the recession.

VIDEO: From Jobs to Jobless: A Tale of 6 CitiesPlay

"Our mom is the most amazing person in the world," Mychaela wrote. "She was recently a teacher for five years, but when our economy started falling, she lost her job."

Mychaela has a few strategies for saving money.

"Using a timer to not take too long showers is a great way my mom and I thought to save electricity and money," she said. And, she added, "We are always reminding each other to always turn the lights out."

Having fun at Mychaela's home now means staying home instead of going out.

"We play board games together. We watch movies at home together," Mychaela said. "Me and my brother, we have learned to appreciate what we have."

It's a sentiment shared by Deanna Watts.

"Never take things for granted because you never know what is going to happen," Deanna said. "I think you should save. You should always have backup plans in case things don't work, because you don't know what may come up."

In some respects, children like Deanna and Mychaela are lucky. As the recession continues to batter American households, other children have had to make more painful sacrifices -- they've given up their homes.

Young and Homeless

"Good Morning America" visited children left homeless by the recession last month.

That included 3-year-old Shema Kakiza once lived in a beautiful Los Angeles town house with her mother and father, a small business owner who used to work for the famous Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles. Now Shema plays on the roof of the Union Rescue Mission, the city's largest homeless shelter where she and her family were forced to move in October.

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"I'm pretending it's my backyard," said Shema, one of the more than 120 children currently living at the shelter. She is also one of more than a million children expected to become homeless in America this year, according to Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

With two floors of the shelter already full, Andy Bales, the CEO of the Mission, said he has had to resort to pitching tents wherever he can find space, including inside the shelter's chapel. The tents are 7 feet long by 3 feet wide, and can house up to four people, or one family.

These tents are built and given out free to homeless shelters and individuals by a charity called Everyone Deserves a Roof.

"We had this huge influx of families, and so we put them to work inside the mission to house families," Bales said. "Evictions, foreclosures, unemployment, eventually you add those things up and you turn homeless."

About 60 families are currently living at the shelter, and about half of them are homeless for the first time.

Louis Guzman, 5, and his little sister Valeria, 3, also live at Union Rescue Mission. Their parents lost their jobs at Los Angeles International Airport, along with both their cars and their home.

"It has been a nightmare," their mother, Aura Guzman, said. "I never thought I was going to end up in this place. And this is the last place I wanted to be."

Louis and Valeria use the shelter's library of donated videos and books as substitutes for the toys they had to leave behind.

"I wish I was home," he said. "We don't have homes. … We just have a room here."

'It Still Shocks Me'

Colin Kakiza, Shema's father, wound up at the shelter after a perfect storm of economic misfortunes. His small business failed, his apartment building was foreclosed on and he depleted his savings.

Kakiza said he "watched it disappear. In a flash."

The Kakiza family lived in cheap motels for several weeks until their finances ran out and they turned to the shelter as a last resort.

He told his daughter that "we're going through a rough time now, and this is going be home for a while ... and she asks questions like, you know, 'Where's our backyard, where are my toys?'"

After living at the Mission for a few weeks, Kakiza decided to put his experience in the hotel industry to good use, and he now works as hospitality director for the shelter, helping to welcome the flood of new homeless families.

"It still shocks me," he said about being homeless. "It could happen to anyone."