Children are more likely to live in poverty than any other age group in the United States. Poverty undermines children’s development and threatens their long-term prospects. In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, 12 million children lived in families with incomes below the federal poverty level; another 15 million lived in families that were one economic shock away from slipping into poverty. The COVID recession has since swelled the ranks of both groups.
Money—especially in the form of a stable income—matters to children’s well-being, both right now and over the longer term. On average, children in more affluent families are more likely to receive medical care on a regular basis and are in better physical and mental health than their peers who live in poor families. Additionally, they have better educational outcomes and are less likely to have contact with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. As adults, they generally earn more.
Money provides the resources to support early brain development.
Research indicates that poverty experienced in early childhood, when brain development is most rapid, is particularly damaging to children’s long-term outcomes. Young children’s brains need critical inputs for healthy development. These inputs include having their nutritional and other basic needs met, and having caregivers with the time and presence to offer consistent, sensitive, and responsive caregiving.
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