Poverty and Self-Sufficiency among Hispanic Families and Children

Launched in 2013, the National Center for Research on Hispanic Families and Children is a collaboration between Child Trends, Abt Associates, University Partners and the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation with the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Center will serve as a hub for research across three priority areas--poverty and self-sufficiency, marriage and responsible fatherhood, and early education and care--and dissemination, communication and support for emerging scholars.

The causal impact of poverty reduction on early childhood development:  The Baby's First Years study 

Across disciplines, developmental scientists agree that poverty is especially likely to shape children’s early development because of the high plasticity and rapid growth of neurobiological development during the first three years of life.  Policy makers and the public often assume that associations between family income and cognitive functioning represent causal connections and that boosting the incomes of poor children would improve cognitive functioning and success in school and beyond. Drawing solid policy implications is premature.  With colleagues Kimberly Noble, Katherine Magnuson, Hiro Yoshikawa, Greg Duncan and Nathan Fox, we launched the first random assignment study of unconditional monthly cash gifts to mothers of low income infants for the first four years of their life.  See Baby's First Years.

Household income dynamics and children's development

The recent U.S. economic crisis has exposed millions of families to volatile economic situations. For some families, these economic changes represent a temporary income shock from which they will recover. For others, the insecurity of the broader economy only exacerbates long-term or persistent patterns of financial instability. Sensitivity to economic fluctuations is particularly acute for those families living on the margins of poverty and who otherwise barely make ends meet; a small shock in income can make the difference between food on the table or waiting in line at a soup kitchen. Low income is often coupled with little to no savings, poor access to low cost credit, and few options to smooth consumption when income shocks occur.  Understanding the implications of income instability on family life and children’s well-being can lay the groundwork for more effective federal and state policy making.

Behavioral economics insights to improve early childhood interventions

A broad range of early education and related public health programs have shown effects on school readiness, but parent engagement (attendance, application of recommendations) varies substantially, resulting in reduced population-level impacts.  Rather than assuming that parents are rational actors (who correctly calculate costs and benefits) recent advances in behavioral economics suggest that low parent engagement may be a result of reduced attention available to program participation, mismatch between parent self-identity and objectives of programs, or miscalculation of the rewards to participating becuase of the lag between current program services and later benefits in achievement.  Applications of tools from behavioral economics may be used to address these challenges and help programs meet their intended objectives

Since beELL's launching in 2015, several projects are underway or completed.  For more see beELL.org and follow us on twitter @beellorg!

The Persistence of poverty in the context of economic instability:  A behavioral perspective

The poor live economically volatile lives.  Living paycheck to paycheck has evolved to a new norm.  Over two thirds of poor Americans do not have enough money saved or accessible to cover their expenses for as little as three months.  Behavioral economics brings a new framework for understanding how these conditions of poverty and income instability can dramatically affect the quality of decision-making, and interfere with economic mobility. Constant juggling of financial resources and having limited or no availability to savings or low cost credit contributes to impulsive and myopic financial decision making.  Such economic instability not only potentially increases financial debt, but is also distracting, and affects attention needed to take advantage of the very programs designed to alleviate the effects of poverty.  These psychological costs of low and unstable income can transform small financial hurdles into poverty traps.  A variety of alternative policy strategies emerge from this new framework--from targeting income instability to creating financial cushions-- that are not readily apparent from traditional perspectives that permeate current social policy design.