A new study from researchers at Indiana University finds that raising the minimum wage by $1 per hour would lead to a substantial decrease (9.6 percent) in the number of reported cases of child neglect.

This study confirms what we already know to be true – money matters for child development and well-being. Increased income helps families cover basic expenses such as rent, utilities, nutritious food and diapers, as well as educational resources that support a child’s academic achievement.

A recent review of rigorous studies examining the link between family income and child outcomes found overwhelmingly strong evidence that increased household income results in positive child development, including higher educational attainment.

Low-income children are at greater risk of experiencing child maltreatment, especially child neglect. According to the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, children in a low socioeconomic household (families with incomes below $15,000, parent’s highest education level less than high school, or household members participating in a poverty program) experienced maltreatment at five times the rate of other children and were three times as likely to be abused and seven times as likely to be neglected. Housing instability is a major contributor to children entering the foster care system – The Administration for Children and Families reports that ten percent of children enter foster care because of inadequate housing. Research has also found racial bias in the child welfare system, with higher rates of poverty among African American children and families.

Child neglect and maltreatment cause significant trauma and adverse effects in the lives of children. Children who experience maltreatment are at risk of impaired brain development, poor mental and emotional health, and can face social difficulties. This in turn can lead to a higher risk of juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, sexual abuse, pregnancy and abusive behavior.

Child maltreatment also has a profound societal impact and cost. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the total lifetime estimated financial costs associated with just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment (physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and neglect) is approximately $124 billion. A reduction in child maltreatment rates would reduce the economic cost to cities and states responsible for providing services to children and families who have experienced abuse and neglect. 

This new study found that increases in minimum wage from 2003 to 2013 led to reduced reports of child neglect among children ages 0-5 and 6-12. This supports other findings, such as a 2013 study that finds that an income increase of $1000 through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) led to a lower likelihood of Child Protective Services involvement.

Parents who are living in a constant state of financial instability and struggle to provide enough resources for their children often suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression, making it more difficult to respond to their children’s emotional needs. Increased income therefore improves financial stability, improves the physical and mental health of children and families and in turn, child maltreatment rates.

There is growing momentum towards increasing the national minimum wage. Nearly 30 states have minimum wages higher than the national one and nearly 20 states had increased their minimum wage in some way at the start of 2017. Yet there is much work to be done to reach a national living wage and many cities are attempting to increase their minimum wage but are getting blocked by state legislatures.

Beyond increasing the minimum wage, we need to create a universal child allowance, which would ensure that every child in the U.S. lives in a household with an income sufficient to meet their basic needs and support their healthy development. All other Anglo-American countries (Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia) provide some form of universal child or family benefit, and all have lower child poverty rates than the U.S.

For additional resources:

Prevent, Protect & Provide: How child welfare can better support low-income families

Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2017

Policy Recommendations for Children and Families Facing Eviction

The Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act is the Wrong Direction to Reduce Child Poverty