Child Poverty and Health: The Role of Income Support Policies

Centennial Issue Child Health

Policy Points:

  • Child poverty is associated with both short- and long-term health and well-being, and income support policies can be used to improve child health.
  • This article reviews the types of income support policies used in the United States and the evidence of the effectiveness of these policies in improving child health, highlighting areas for future research and policy considerations specific to income support policies.

Child poverty is associated with both short- and long-term health and well-being.1,2 Poverty affects child health directly through the experience of deprivation, such as through food insufficiency or lack of housing, but also indirectly through the availability of parental or community resources.3 Economic resources also shape children’s access to health-promoting policies, like education, child care, parental leave, and health care, which affect both current and later-life health and mortality. Many income support policies also reduce poverty and improve economic well-being, which in turn improves child health. In this paper, I review the evidence on income support policies in the United States and their effects on child health. I focus on income support policies because there is a growing interest in considering how income policies, and basic income policies in particular, might be used to improve child health.3 Although this review focuses on the US context, the implications of such policies are broadly applicable beyond the United States. The goal of this paper is not to conduct an exhaustive literature review, as this has been done elsewhere,4 but rather to paint a broad picture of findings related to income support and child health. I focus my review on studies that take seriously issues of selection and causal inference, and concentrate on the biggest poverty policies that target families with children in the United States. I then outline policy considerations and areas where additional research is needed in order to understand how income support and poverty reduction might best support child health.

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  1. Duncan G, Brooks-Gunn J. The Consequences of Growing Up Poor. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation; 1997.
  2. Council on Community Pediatrics. Poverty and child health in the United States. Pediatrics. 2016;137(4):e20160339.
  3. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2019.
  4. Gibson M, Hearty W, Craig P. The public health effects of interventions similar to basic income: a scoping review. Lancet Public Health. 2020;5(3):e165-e176.

Pilkauskas N. Child Poverty and Health: The Role of Income Support Policies. Milbank Q. 2023;101(S1): 379-395.