Monday, September 1, 2014

The damage of poverty is visible as early as kindergarten

These kids are getting an early education. That is going to help them years down the road. Getty Images

A big part of the American Dream is being able to climb the ladder and land higher than your parents. But that climb starts when people are just small children, according to new research, and getting off on the wrong foot has lifelong consequences.

In a new article in the spring issue of the Princeton University journal The Future of Children (and highlighted by the Brookings social mobility blog), researchers show that poverty is directly correlated to kindergarten performance. Children who live in poverty have far lower performance than their richer peers across a variety of measures, and those who live in near poverty in turn have dramatically worse performance than middle-class peers. The poorest kids, for example, are less than one-third as likely as middle-class kids to recognize letters.

Screen_shot_2014-06-10_at_1.31.30_pm

Research has shown that an early head start creates better and better educational outcomes down the road, as the effects build on each other and make future learning easier.

The authors dig into the effects of income on achievement, finding that "adults who were poor as children completed two fewer years of schooling and, by the time they reached their 30s, earned less than half as much, worked far fewer hours per year, received more in food stamps, and were nearly three times as likely to report poor overall health" than their peers whose families earned at twice the poverty line or more (though the causal linkages on health don't appear as strong as those on later achievement).

Early academic achievement can have lifelong effects. Harvard economist Raj Chetty found in a 2010 study that moving from an average to an excellent kindergarten teacher can boost a student's later work earnings by $1,000 per year on average. And Chetty and fellow economists from Harvard and Berkeley wrote in a wide-ranging study on economic mobility this year that primary education is one of the key factors in moving people up the ladder.

It's not that money directly buys better outcomes. Having extra cash does mean that adults can, for example, better invest in kids' development with games and toys at young ages and have more time to spend with kids. But the effects are also less direct, as growing up poor can create psychological stress and hurt development.

All of which is to say that there a couple of important lessons here about economic mobility. One is that policywise, investing in things like the Earned Income Tax Credit and early childhood education could be instrumental in helping poor kids up the ladder.

More importantly, this means boosting economic mobility is likely to be a long, complicated fight. Even if there were jobs right now for everyone who needed them, the lingering effects of poverty would still limit some people's abilities to earn. And making sure today's children don't go through the same cycle means policies that touch not only on job creation but education.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new Vox username and password

As part of the new Vox launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to Vox going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new Vox username and password

As part of the new Vox launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to Vox going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.
Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_10934_tracker