Experiencing poverty during childhood can lead to lasting harmful effects that compromise not only children’s health and welfare but can also hinder future opportunities for economic mobility, which may be passed on to future generations. An intergenerational cycle of economic disadvantages weighs heavily not only on children and families experiencing poverty but also on the nation as a whole by reducing future national prosperity and increasing burden on the educational, criminal justice, and health care systems.

Reducing Intergenerational Poverty examines the drivers of long-term, intergenerational poverty, identifies potential policies and programs to reduce it, and recommends actions to address gaps in data and research. Understanding the causes of intergenerational poverty and implementing programs and policies to reduce it would yield a high payoff for disadvantaged children and for the entire nation.

Intergenerational poverty is not only a burden for these families and the U.S. economy, but also a rebuke to the American ideal of upward mobility for every generation and to the dream of all American parents that their children will have the chance to prosper.

What is Intergenerational Poverty?

The report defines intergenerational poverty as a situation in which children who grow up in families with incomes below the poverty line are themselves poor as adults.

10 million

Over the past decade, an average of approximately 10 million U.S. children lived in families with incomes below the poverty line.


Among U.S. children born around 1980 who grew up in families with incomes below or near the poverty line, 34 percent of also had low household incomes in adulthood.


This is twice the 17 percent rate found among adults born at the same time who did not grow up in low-income households.

Intergenerational Poverty Persistence

Intergenerational economic disadvantage disproportionately affects Black and Native American families. Intergenerational persistence in low-income families is relatively similar for White and Latino children, lower for Asian children, and much higher for Black and Native American children.

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Key Drivers

Key drivers of intergenerational poverty influence the developmental trajectories of children living in households below the poverty line. Contemporary and historical disparities, discrimination, structural racism, as well as behaviors and choices, create further challenges for Black and Native American families in establishing economic security for their children.

Policy and Programs to Reduce Intergenerational Poverty

Implementing a portfolio of policies and programs directed at children living in poverty can be instrumental in reducing those children’s chances of being poor when they become adults. In examining policies and programs, the committee considered the strength of the research and evaluation evidence; magnitude of impacts relative to costs; and possible behavioral responses to policies and programs.

Program and Policy Ideas Linked by Direct Evidence to Reductions in Intergenerational Poverty

The report found direct evidence of success in reducing intergenerational poverty in policies and programs for five of the seven key drivers: education, child and maternal health; family income, employment, and wealth; housing and neighborhoods; and neighborhood crime and the criminal justice system. Programs and policies for which the supporting evidence was particularly strong are marked with an .

  • Education
    K-12 education
    • Increase K-12 school spending in the poorest districts
    • Increase teacher workforce diversity
    • Reduce exclusionary school discipline
    • Increase access to Ethnic Studies courses
    Post-secondary education
    • Expand effective financial aid programs for low-income college students
    • Increase campus supports such as tutoring and case management
    Career training
    • Expand high-quality career and technical education programs in high school
    • Expand sectoral training programs for adults and youth
  • Child and Maternal Health
    Family Planning
    • Increase funding for Title X family planning programs
    • Ensure that Medicaid beneficiaries have access to family planning services
    Health Insurance
    • Expand access to Medicaid with continuous 12-month eligibility and 12-month post-partum coverage
    • Expand access to Indian Health Services for all eligible mothers and children
    Pollution reduction
    • Support the EPA to work with local partners to adopt and expand efficient methods of monitoring outdoor and—especially in schools—indoor air quality
    • Remove the five-year waiting period of SNAP eligibility for legal permanent resident parents
    • Eliminate the proration of SNAP benefits for citizen children with undocumented parents
  • Family Income, Employment, and Wealth
    Work-based income support
    • Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit by increasing payments along some or all portions of the schedule and possibly by providing a credit to families with no earnings
  • Housing and Neighborhoods
    Residential mobility
    • Expand coverage of the Housing Choice Voucher program and couple it with customized counseling and case management services to facilitate moves to low-poverty neighborhoods.
  • Neighborhood Crime and the Criminal Justice System
    Juvenile incarceration
    • Juvenile confinement should only be used for youth who pose a serious and immediate threat to public safety
    Child investment strategies
    • Improve school quality and reduce lead exposure in ways identified in the education and health categories
    • Scale-up evidence-based therapeutic interventions such as the Becoming a Man program
    Strengthen communities to reduce violent crime and victimization
    • Scale up programs that abate vacant lots and abandoned homes
    • Increase grants to community-based organizations
    Policing strategies
    • Expand funding for policing in high-crime neighborhoods
    • Expand use of effective strategies like community policing
    Gun safety
    • Improve gun safety in ways that pass constitutional review
    • Promote sentencing add-ons for violence involving firearms
    • Promote child access prevention laws and restrictions on right-to-carry laws, limit access to guns by domestic abusers

Future Research

While the committee was able to identify a number of programs and policies that appeared to be effective in reducing intergenerational poverty, it lacked high-quality evidence on the intergenerational impacts of many other promising programs.

Existing census, survey, and administrative data—linked for families over time and across subject domains, including income, wealth, demographics, health, and education, and with appropriate confidentiality protection—would be invaluable for promoting needed policy research on intergenerational mobility.

Specifically, the committee recommends that the Chief Statistician at the Office of Management and Budget facilitate research on economic opportunity, intergenerational poverty, and related topics by changing provisions for secure access to confidential data from the Internal Revenue Service, Census Bureau and certain state benefit program records for policy evaluation research.

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