Methods: We use merged administrative data from Wisconsin’s Child Support Enforcement and Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs. To estimate the effects of the pandemic on noncustodial parents’ earnings, UI benefits, and child support outcomes, we construct a treatment and comparison cohort. The treatment cohort includes noncustodial parents with a non-marital birth in 2018 who had a child support order in place between July and December 2020 (N=7,211); we observe their outcomes in July to December 2020, after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The comparison cohort includes noncustodial parents with a non-marital birth in the year prior (N=8,244), 2017—which had similar GDP growth and unemployment as 2018—who had a child support order in place between July and December 2019; we observe their outcomes in July to December 2019. Our analyses will estimate the effects of the pandemic on noncustodial parents’ earnings, UI benefits, and child support outcomes, including child support payments, child support compliance, and child support arrears.
Results: Our results suggest that, as expected, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a decline in noncustodial parents’ earnings and an increase in UI benefits. Relative to the comparison cohort, noncustodial parents’ earnings declined by approximately $200 in the third quarter (July-September) of 2020. However, UI benefits increased by approximately $500 during this period. Similarly, the percentage of noncustodial parents with any earnings declined from 63% to 59% while the percentage with any UI receipt increased from 2% to 11%. Additionally, the percentage of noncustodial parents who paid any child support slightly declined from 68% to 66% in the third quarter of 2020, but the total amount of child support payments did not. This suggests that safety net expansions largely mitigated declines in child support payments. Subsequent analyses will estimate models that consider within-person growth in income between the two cohorts and examine subgroup differences by noncustodial parents’ gender, race/ethnicity, and immigration status.
Conclusions and Implications: Our study will show how the economic recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic impacted noncustodial parents’ ability to provide for their nonresident children in the short term. These findings have implications for state and federal policy responses in the wake of future economic downturns.