New study finds cash aid to low-income moms increases brain activity in babies

Kids are less likely to be absent from school, more likely to graduate from high school or attend college, and have higher grades and test scores when their families get added income, studies of income subsidy programs show.

When food stamps were introduced, researchers found that they improved health outcomes into adulthood for people who got the nutritional assistance as kids. High childhood stress, which is strongly associated with poverty, increases the risk of “a host of inflammatory diseases later in life.”

According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, cited by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Results show that low income, particularly in very early childhood (between the prenatal and second year of life), is associated with increases in early-adult hypertension, arthritis, and limitations on activities of daily living. Moreover, these relationships and particularly arthritis partially account for the associations between early childhood poverty and adult productivity as measured by adult work hours and earnings. The results suggest that the associations between early childhood poverty and these adult disease states may be immune-related.”

As that notes, improved health tends to mean increased work hours, and “one study that followed low-income children from early childhood into their adult years found that each additional $3,000 in annual income in early childhood (in 2005 dollars) is associated with an added 135 hours of work per year as a young adult and an additional 17 percent in annual earnings.”

So boosting income for households with children leads—according to multiple studies of multiple subsidy programs—to a range of improved outcomes. But opponents of the expanded child tax credit that dramatically reduced child poverty in the second half of 2021 say that it’s bad because it discourages parents from working, and parents working is the best thing. Those people are even saying that in response to the study that shows that babies have increased brain activity due to an extra $333 per month.

If you actually believe that child poverty has these negative effects, then you should not be trying to restore unconditional cash aid,” one conservative think-tanker told The New York Times’ Jason DeParle. “You certainly don’t want to go in the business of reversing welfare reform.” Except that, whoops, there are also studies showing that if you increase parental employment without increasing income—all too possible in today’s economy, with the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage—it doesn’t help kids. Increasing household income does. Congress has the policy right at its fingertips—a policy that was in place in 2021 with significant positive short-term results, including a significant reduction in childhood hunger. Republicans and one or two Democrats are blocking it, and with it, blocking improved educational and health outcomes and increased work hours and incomes when those children grow into adults.

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