So what can be done to help children in poverty get a better start and thus have a better chance of succeeding as adults? Some suggest more funding for K-12 schools, but increasingly scholars see the need for earlier intervention to help poor children. There is also more appreciation among scholars of the need for strong two parent families.
In her testimony before Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, economist Melissa Schettini Kearney cites the need for strong two parent families but notes that a marriage divide is opening up where the poor don’t marry at nearly the rates of wealthier couples. As a result poor children are raised by single moms who may not have the time and energy to help their child with learning at home.
In contrast, a large body of research shows that more affluent and educated parents spend more time with their kids, especially in learning activities. This matters because scholars are now finding that both cognitive and non-cognitive skills are developed early in life.
Getting married so there are two parents could help children and allow for more attention to children and their learning challenges. But many single moms won’t marry men who are either unemployed or who work at lower paying jobs. So marriage is put off and sometimes never happens. Meanwhile, the children are left to fend for themselves. Kearney concludes her testimony with this warning:
The worry is that without effective and targeted policies, the less-advantaged will fall behind and we will see a damaging feedback effect – with those born in the bottom of the income distribution increasingly stuck there, dropping out of the mainstream climb to educational and economic success.
Exactly what those “targeted” policies should be is open to discussion. Education professor Greg Duncan of the University of California at Irvine believes better income matters: “More detailed analyses show that for families with average early childhood incomes below $25,000, a $3,000 annual boost to family income is associated with a 17 percent increase in adult earnings.”
Based on such studies, Duncan recommends policies such as raising the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for families with very young children. He also notes that several European countries offer time-limited benefits to mothers with very young children. Germany, for example, offers a modest parental allowance to mothers working fewer than 20 hours per week until their child is 18 months old. France offers benefits to young families, including the Allocation de Parent Isole (API) program that targets help to single moms.
Posted: October 2, 2014