That poverty, especially from an early age, results in long-term mental, emotional, and physical damage is a known thing. Paying the scarcity tax while poor is a real, crippling, phenomenon.
These are the points to keep in mind when reading about new research that poverty’s hindrance shows up as early as kindergarten. The study authors, as reported by Danielle Kurtzleben, found that kids “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.” Moreover, that this correlated with reduced earnings, worse health, and increased SNAP participation later in life.
But, again, this is a known thing.
Which makes the concluding paragraphs from Kurtzleben, with the standard unspoken ideology, all the more disappointing (emphasis mine):
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.
The lessons here for economic mobility are dubious, at best. In the United States such mobility has remained basically unchanged in sixty-four years. And early childhood education may well be worth pursuing on its own merit, but this shouldn’t be thought of as institutional anti-poverty policy. Maybe the third time is a charm but this too is a known thing. As Matt Bruenig has repeatedly documented, other countries have seemingly gotten this and consistently produce lower childhood poverty rates. We could be accomplishing this as well, and in the most miraculous, magical, manner by simply giving parents money.
More generally, though, it seems fundamentally off to me that the most important lesson, after documenting this evidence about the deleterious effects of current poverty, should be about something other than reducing existing poverty. Yet talking about distributing more resources to eliminate it in the most straightforward way possible, and not just lower the chance that it will debilitate you for the rest of your life, is inherently political.
There is a very well-argued critique from the left that data-driven journalism and the rise of the wonks submerges, rather than eliminates, the ideology in pronouncing The Way Forward. I’ve grown more sympathetic to that argument. The passage above is representative of the type of conclusion that passes for an ideology-free observation nowadays — from which an idea like economic mobility become the security blanket of data-warriors and centrists. Poverty policy that works is a known thing, but when that information is depoliticized or incomplete the comfort conclusion becomes the most authoritative. We’re left with pondering how the data informs us of the blind American chance to not be defeated by the devastating consequences of poverty. We’re left with the pursuit of blasé opportunity, not justice.