Programs that boost income and help families afford basic needs also enhance poor children’s future health, education, and projected earnings, as the New York Times recently wrote. Despite growing evidence that bolstering family income can help poor children catch up in a range of areas, President Trump has proposed deep budget cuts to economic security programs that would substantially increase hardship and poverty. As they’ve done in their recent budget plans, congressional Republicans are expected to again propose their own mix of harsh cuts to programs that help low-income families make ends meet as part of the 2018 budget debate.
The Times’ Neil Irwin pointed out that, “Certain social welfare policies, according to an emerging body of research, may actually encourage more people to work and enable them to do so more productively.” He noted that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), in particular, may increase the nation’s “economic potential” by boosting work effort and earnings among parents, especially single mothers.
The weight of evidence that Irwin references suggests that economic security programs contribute to parents’ and children’s success by helping families get by and blunting poverty’s negative effects. In a systematic review of high-quality income studies (mostly from the United States), researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science noted that almost all the studies found positive effects of higher family income on children’s educational, behavioral, and health outcomes. Of the 34 studies identified, only five found no evidence that income affected any of the outcomes examined, with methodological problems contributing to the reason why at least four of those five found no effect, the review concluded.
The evidence comes from programs including the EITC, anti-poverty and welfare-to-work pilot programs in the 1990s, an early 20th century public assistance program for mothers, federal food assistance, and negative income tax experiments. These programs have been found to improve birth weight, raise reading and math test scores in middle school, increase high school completion and college entry, lift lifetime income, and extend longevity. These are remarkable research results for income support, which isn’t typically thought of as improving children's education or health.
Everyone benefits when low-income children succeed and are better able to contribute to their communities as adults. Given the evidence, policymakers ought to view income support as a long-term investment in children and in our shared economic future. Budget cuts to these income-boosting programs are misguided, and they have the potential to significantly increase child poverty and have damaging long-term effects on children.