Childhood poverty cost U.S. $1.03 trillion in a year, study finds

Childhood hardship primes immune system for addiction

Childhood poverty cost $1.03 trillion in 2015, about 5.4 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States, according to a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Impoverished children grow up having fewer skills and are thus less able to contribute to the productivity of the economy,” said Mark R. Rank, the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare and one of the country’s foremost experts on income inequality. “They are also more likely to experience frequent health care problems and to engage in crime. These costs are borne by the children themselves, but ultimately by the wider society as well.”

These costs are clustered around the loss of economic productivity, increased health and crime costs, and increased costs as a result of child homelessness and maltreatment, finds the study, “Estimating the Economic Cost of Childhood Poverty in the United States,” published March 30 in the journal Social Work Research.

Rank co-authored the study with Michael McLaughlin, doctoral student at the Brown School.

“It is estimated that for every dollar spent on reducing childhood poverty, the country would save at least $7 with respect to the economic costs of poverty,” Rank said.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, Rank said that the federal government spent $3.7 trillion in 2015, meaning that the annual cost of childhood poverty represented 28 percent of the entire federal budget that year.

“We contend that alleviating poverty is in all of our collective self-interests. Whether we realize it or not, we each pay a high price for allowing poverty to walk in our midst,” Rank and McLaughlin wrote in the paper.

“The bottom line is that reducing poverty is justified not only from a social justice perspective, but from a cost–benefit perspective as well,” the authors wrote. “Investing in programs that reduce childhood poverty is both smart and effective economic policy.”


  1. There is an unreasonable fear that new immigrants will take over the jobs otherwise available to other people and this attitude also prevails with regard to poor people of any kind who do not have work. It is a false concept. For every poor or newly arrived person, not only do they bring a means for working and earning but also the desire to consume most if not all of what they produce. We should stop the control of the natural resources due to speculation in its value and instead by taxing it, encourage these resources to provide the opportunities that poor people and their entrepreneurs badly need. TAX LAND NOT LABOR; TAX TAKINGS NOT MAKINGS!


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