The government’s largest antipoverty program does more than simply make it easier for families to make ends meet. Known as the earned income tax credit, it also results in a significant drop in reported child maltreatment, according to a new federally funded study by researchers from the University of Washington.
A 10% increase in the benefit for low- to moderate-income working families, led to a 9% drop in the annual number of child neglect reports referred to child welfare agencies over a 14-year study period, the researchers found.
“The EITC is an important part of the U.S. safety net that has been shown to substantially reduce child poverty. Our results add to growing evidence that policies that improve family economic security can also prevent child maltreatment,” said lead author Nicole Kovski, a doctoral student at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington.
Research has long supported the idea that the stress of poverty is linked to child abuse and that economic policies can affect the rate of that abuse. The University of Washington study, however, is the first to examine how the earned income tax credit correlates with child maltreatment reports.
The study may have implications for the Biden administration, which has proposed expanding the child tax credit under the new stimulus bill. The child tax credit works in much the same way but is available only to families with dependent children, along with the earned income tax credit.
Although the earned income tax credit originated in 1975 as a federal program, 29 states also offer their own versions. The size of the tax credits depends on income levels and family size. The University of Washington study examined the effects of the state credits, which are often paid in the form of a tax refund. And generally, the more generous the tax credit, the larger the reduction in maltreatment reports, especially those alleging neglect, the researchers found.
“Child neglect often involves the failure of a caregiver to provide children with necessities, such as food, shelter and basic supervision,” Kovski said. “Additional income provided to families through the EITC can improve parents’ abilities to meet these basic needs.”
The University of Washington study seems to bolster broader evidence that similar income-supporting policies, such as a higher minimum wage, are also associated with less child maltreatment. Interest in experiments with universal basic income is also growing.