These briefs are short and informative analyses of our research relating to poverty policies. Policy Briefs deliver our cutting-edge research directly to policy makers, researchers, and stakeholders in an accessible format.
In the United States, poverty, incarceration, and race are linked in complex ways, with much evidence that poverty may be both a cause and a consequence of incarceration. Black men are disproportionately more likely than white men to be arrested and incarcerated, a racial gap that first emerged in the early 20th century. In a new study, I explore the historical role played in that gap by education. I find that black men fully exposed to an expansion of rural primary schools between 1913 and 1932 were 1.9 percentage points less likely to be incarcerated later.
A quarter of the world’s population suffer from metabolic syndrome (MetS), a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. MetS is particularly common among people of low socioeconomic status (SES). When we examined the relative roles of early-life SES and current SES in explaining MetS risk, we found that low early-life SES contributed to an 83% greater risk of MetS later on.
Poor children in the United States are less healthy than other children, which may be a central factor in why poverty persists across generations. Research approaches that use variation in public programs let researchers disentangle the effects of a program itself from other factors. These approaches confirm the broad benefits of safety net programs that target children’s health and nutrition. They also suggest that access to these programs in early life improves children’s economic well-being as adults, which likely transmits to the next generation.
California’s Continuum of Care Reform Act (CCR) shifts foster care in the state toward placing children with families and more support for foster parents. We conducted a survey-based study to learn about who is most likely to be willing to serve as a resource family, the level of knowledge about foster care and potential motivations for fostering. We found that the strongest motivations among potential parents are to support foster youth and their biological parents rather than any emotional or financial benefits for themselves. Strong deterrents were financial strain and worries about being able to adequately care for them.
In the U.S., low-income immigrants are disproportionately excluded from social services. Even those who have gained formal access must often overcome informal institutional barriers. In a new study, I interviewed low-income Mexican immigrant mothers with limited English skills to understand these informal barriers in education and healthcare settings as they advocated on behalf of their children. The study suggests that mothers are most effective in a less bureaucratized setting and when staff recognize how deeply they care for and understand their children.
At the core of debates about Head Start is evidence of its effectiveness, which has been questioned due to the reduction in test score gains, known as test score “fade-out”, in the years following participation. However, short-term test score gains may not accurately reflect the impacts of the program. A number of studies suggest that the program yields long-term improvements that include social, cognitive and physical well-being. These findings show that, overall, Head Start produces a positive return on investment.
Household economic security contributes to child and family wellbeing, and is especially important during the rapid developmental periods of infancy and early childhood. My new study shows that, on average, the economic wellbeing of U.S. households falls in the months before and after a birth, especially among parents with low levels of education and single mothers who live without other adults. Timely and more generous income supports and policies facilitating mothers’ employment could boost economic wellbeing during this critical period.
Despite a near-continuous decline over the past 20 years, the teen birth rate in the United States continues to be higher than in other developed countries. Many have advocated for long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), which are more effective at preventing pregnancy than more commonly used contraceptives. In a new study, we analyze Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative, the first large-scale policy intervention to improve access to LARCs in the U.S. We find that the program reduced the teen birth rate by about five percent, and these effects were concentrated among Colorado counties with higher rates of poverty.
Children are removed from their families for different reasons, but poverty and disconnection from financial support such as employment or public benefits are associated with referrals to child welfare and children being placed outside the home. Our new research suggests that efforts to minimize the negative financial impact of child placement for parents have the potential to improve both the financial lives of vulnerable families and their chances for reunification.
In the United States, food assistance programs have been established to improve the well-being of poor and low-income children. The School Breakfast Program is a federal program that offers breakfast to any student who attends a participating school. In a new study, I evaluate the impact this program has on student achievement in elementary schools nationally using variation across states that require schools to participate in the program. The results suggest that state mandates for the School Breakfast Program are effective at increasing academic achievement among low-income students by improving nutrition.
The goal of federal food and nutrition programs in the United States is to improve the nutritional well-being and health of low income families. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states to support nutrition for pregnant and post-partum mothers and children up to age five. Our study, one of the first to convincingly describe the program’s causal effect, found that WIC’s implementation led to an increase in average birthweight, especially among mothers with low levels of education. This suggests that the value of WIC benefits for needy participants is substantial compared to the program’s relatively low costs.
Where children grow up has a striking effect on where they live as young adults. Our new study examined an experimental federal housing voucher program from the 1990s to learn what factors may contribute to children living in higher-income neighborhoods as young adults. We find that housing assistance helps the next generation to exit concentrated poverty. We also found that a family’s finances, ties to neighborhoods and the housing market all play roles, but a family’s desire to live in higher-income, more integrated neighborhoods is also important.
In 2010, an estimated 2.7 million children and one in nine African-American children had an incarcerated parent. Incarceration creates challenges for inmates’ families. Resources that inmates had contributed are removed, while incarceration introduces new expenses. Children with incarcerated fathers have worse educational outcomes and poorer mental health than otherwise comparable children. Employment assistance and less restrictive visitation rules may mitigate the economic and emotional effects incarceration has on families.
During the most recent economic recession in the U.S., many parents lost their jobs. When a parent loses a job, it can impact their child’s well-being in complex ways. In a new study, we sought to understand how a parent losing a job affects their children’s health. We found that after a job loss, an increase in public coverage offset much of the decrease in private coverage. In addition, we found almost no effects on children’s use of routine health care services and no evidence that job loss negatively affects children’s physical health in the short run. However, we do find that parental job loss results in a deterioration of mental health for some children, which may have negative implications for child health in the long run.
Truancy in California is a pervasive problem that disproportionately impacts children in high-poverty schools. Our study examined how school safety and connectedness relate to truancy in California’s high-poverty middle and high schools. We found that children who perceive their schools to be unsafe and feared being in fights were more likely to skip school. Students who reported that they were more closely connected to their schools, particularly students who reported having a teacher or adult who cared about them, were more likely to attend. School-wide initiatives enhancing both school safety and connectedness may lead to improved school attendance at California’s most disadvantaged schools.
After decades of reductions in official measures of family violence, annual incidence rates have plateaued over the past ten years. Poverty and the increased stress it causes can increase the risk for family violence, which suggests that economic downturns like the Great Recession may contribute to this stagnation. Income support in new and existing interventions may help reduce family violence, especially among high-risk, poor families.
Domestic violence is a significant problem in the U.S. It leads to serious medical and emotional costs for victims and their children, but also has important negative spillovers. Our new work finds that exposure to a higher proportion of peers experiencing domestic violence during primary school leads to lower academic achievement in the long-run, even after moving to schools with a mixed peer composition.
Growing up in poverty may have long-term impacts beyond the chance of a better financial future. The stress of early-life poverty may in fact be associated with serious health problems well into adulthood.
Ongoing research by Center Graduate Student Fellow Natalie Troxel and Faculty Affiliate Paul Hastings examines the association between poverty and compromised adult health, which may have implications for healthcare costs in the U.S.
From 1900 through the 1960s, millions of black Americans moved northward during The Great Migration toward economic opportunity and away from Jim Crow in the South. However, over the last few decades many of those destination cities in the north have fared poorly.
Transitions into and out of poverty often happen after major events such as marriage, divorce, or changes in income. They are also associated with economic factors, such as unemployment rates or wages.