Greg J. Duncan, UCI Distinguished Professor of education points to a graph on a white board.
“We found it encouraging that we could identify promising, evidence-based programs in most of the driver areas we investigated,” says Greg J. Duncan, UCI Distinguished Professor of education and chair of the committee designated by the National Academies to thoroughly examine intergenerational poverty in the U.S. UCI School of Education

Irvine, Calif., Sept. 25, 2023 — A report released Thursday, Sept. 21, by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine identifies evidence-based programs and policies, such as increased K-12 spending for school districts serving low-income students, to combat intergenerational poverty in the United States. The comprehensive report – written by a committee chaired by Greg J. Duncan, Distinguished Professor of education at the University of California, Irvine – offers valuable insights into addressing one of the nation’s most pressing challenges.

Intergenerational poverty refers to the cycle in which children raised in low-income families experience poverty as adults. The report reveals that 34 percent of children who were born around 1980 and grew up in households below the poverty line were continuing to live in low-income households when they were in their 30s. Black and Native American children are disproportionately affected by this cycle, with intergenerational poverty rates at 37 percent and 46 percent, respectively, highlighting the deep-rooted issues of disparity and discrimination.

“The costs of persistent intergenerational poverty fall on society as a whole,” Duncan said. “Intergenerational poverty reduces national prosperity and places increased burdens on the educational, criminal justice and healthcare systems. Our report sifts through decades of policy research to identify ‘best bet’ policies and programs for overcoming these challenges.”

The report addresses key areas in which to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, including:

  • Education: To bridge educational gaps, the report suggests increasing K-12 spending in school districts serving low-income students, teacher workforce diversity, campus support services such as tutoring and case management, and certain kinds of financial aid for low-income college students. For youths not planning on graduating from four-year universities, the report points to a number of industry-specific training programs that have been successful in preparing them for well-paying careers.
  • Child and maternal health and welfare: The report finds strong evidence to support increasing funding for Title X family planning programs and ensuring that family planning services are available to Medicaid beneficiaries. The report also proposes an expansion of access to Medicaid, with continuous 12-month eligibility and 12-month postpartum coverage, and to Indian health services for eligible mothers and children to aid intergenerational mobility.
  • Neighborhood safety and criminal justice: The report points out that juvenile detention has an adverse effect on high school completion and increases the likelihood of adult incarceration. Neighborhood violent crime could be reduced through proven community investments and engagement, certain kinds of policies and gun safety regulations.
  • Family income, employment and wealth: The report highlights the positive impact of income transfer programs – particularly the earned income tax credit – in improving educational and labor market outcomes for children growing up in recipient families.
  • Housing: To combat housing-related issues contributing to intergenerational poverty, the report suggests an expansion of housing choice voucher program coverage paired with customized counseling and case management services.

“Intergenerational poverty is a thorny, multidimensional problem,” Duncan said. “We found it encouraging that we could identify promising, evidence-based programs in most of the driver areas we investigated. In other words, the breadth of the problem of intergenerational poverty is matched by the breadth of potential solutions.”

While the report identifies several programs and policies, it also calls for further research to enhance the understanding of intergenerational mobility and economic opportunity. It recommends high-quality data collection and ways of reducing the barriers to confidential federal and state data access that respect and protect the privacy of respondents’ information.

Conducted by the National Academies’ committee on policies and programs to reduce intergenerational poverty, this report was sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; the Bainum Family Foundation; the Doris Duke Foundation; the Foundation for Child Development; the National Academy of Sciences’ W.K. Kellogg Fund; the Russell Sage Foundation; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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