At any given time over the past decade, about 10 million U.S. children lived in families with incomes below the poverty line. Their experiences with childhood poverty can compromise their health and welfare and also hinder their opportunities for economic mobility in adulthood. On Monday, May 6, the Center for Economic Security and Opportunity at Brookings convened a briefing to highlight the findings of a congressionally mandated report by a committee of the National Academies on reducing intergenerational poverty.

Greg Duncan, professor at UC Irvine, began by setting up the task of the report. That is, “what can we do today for children, their families, their environments that 20 years from now, 30 years from now is going to reduce their chance of being poor when they become adults.” He discussed how the statement of task and the nature of the panel led them to limit themselves to direct evidence. They looked at the effects of programs on outcomes like adult earnings or poverty directly, setting aside research that looked at intermediate outcomes such as test scores or birthweight.

Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown and non-resident senior fellow at Brookings, spoke on four areas of the report: education, income, health, and crime. In education, he strongly emphasized that money matters; that increasing spending in the poorest districts and effective post-secondary financial assistance combined with more campus supports would have a significant impact.

For employment, he pointed to the earned income tax credit as one of the most important policies. “The earned income tax credit is a win-win-win program. It puts money in the pockets of people who need it. It also encourages their employment and raises their employment… and it has positive effects on children in those families.”

Mary Pattillo, professor of sociology at Northwestern, talked about the racial and ethnic disparities in intergenerational poverty, noting that Black and Native American children in low-income households are significantly more likely than white children to have low income as adults. She discussed disproportionate exposure to adverse factors, including higher rates of neighborhood violence and poverty experienced by Black and Native American children. She further noted that “Black toddlers are suspended at 2.5 times their representation in the toddler-preschool population.”

Read the full article about intergenerational poverty at Brookings.