New Research: Early Childhood Poverty Has Long, Harmful Reach

New findings by two of the most-respected researchers in the country demonstrate that the kinds of budget cuts currently being considered at the federal and state levels–like cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income working families–would have harmful long-term consequences for young children in low-income families.

The researchers, Greg J. Duncan and Katherine Magnuson, found that an income boost of $3,000 for families with young children earning less than $25,000 per year improved educational achievement and substantially increased the future earnings of the family’s children when they reached adulthood.  The reverse was true for low-income families with young children whose income declined.

Thus, instead of cutting programs that support the incomes of low-income families with young children, Duncan and Magnuson advocate increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.  Investing in families with young children now will reap substantial long-term benefits both for children and for the economy and broader society.


  1. Amy Morton

    March 16, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    This is a very helpful post, and I plan to look at this research as I work with others here in my community in middle Georgia to prepare to moderate next week’s LEAP Conference (Local Efforts Against Poverty) at Mercer University. In North Carolina (my home state btw), do you have a state earned income tax credit that tracks the federal credit? If not, you may be interested in this piece by The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. (A great organization with good resources on poverty and other issues that impact the economy.) I’m also linking your post, and blog on Cotton Patch Politics, a new southern regional blog. Poverty in the “black belt” is one of the many regional issues we highlight. I’m sure this will be interesting to our readers. Thank you!

  2. Ed McLenaghan

    March 16, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks, Amy. North Carolina does have a state EITC that tracks the federal credit (at 5%), but it’s currently under threat (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2011/02/17/state-eitc-proposal-would-hurt-working-families-all-100-counties/). Glad you found the information useful!

  3. Amy Morton

    March 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Georgia does not, but we should. Thanks, again!

  4. Alex

    March 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Why is this a new finding ? Anyone with a grain of common sense could reach this same conclusion without a lot of work. We have tried to eradicate poverty since the Lyndon Johnson era of the “Great Society”, and despite spending trillions of dollars have actually regressed over this period. The idea of the government taking care of people from the cradle to the grave has done nothing more than robbed many citizens of both their initiative and any accountability, and in effect has made them perpetual slaves to the system. Dependence on the government has migrated on to a dependence on drugs, so the ugly cycle goes on from one generation to the next. Perhaps, it’s time to try something else !

  5. Jeff Shaw

    March 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    The Earned Income Tax Credit is for people who work, and hence it offers incentive to work. It does not in any respect rob people of initiative or accountability.

    But don’t let me stop you from repeating the same old talking points, just because they’re even more categorically false than usual.

  6. Ed McLenaghan

    March 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Plus, the reasons it’s valuable to conduct sound, high-quality research even on things that are “common sense” are:

    1) Common sense is often wrong, and only “common” within cultural and economic subgroups,

    2) Even if generally accurate at times, common sense does not yield quantifiable results, and

    3) Poor-quality research, such as claiming that anti-poverty programs fail because there is still high poverty or that the stimulus didn’t work because we still have high unemployment, fails to take into account counterfactual scenarios (i.e. what would have happened without a specific policy intervention?).

  7. Alex

    March 16, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    If you are blinded by pre-conceived notions, then you can do all of the research in the world,and still end up with the wrong conclusions. If results are not the measure of a program, then it is a futile effort to do additional research. I shudder to think what is being taught in public policy courses if this type of thinking is the end result.

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