The Earned Income Tax Credit may help keep kids out of jail


WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 08: U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen speaks during a Child Tax Credit/Earned Income Tax Credit Day of Action event at the South Court Auditorium at Eisenhower Executive Office Building on February 8, 2022 in Washington, DC. Vice President Harris encouraged all Americans to take advantage of child tax credit, which is part of the American Rescue Plan. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — A federal assistance program aimed at reducing poverty may also help the children who benefit from the program stay out of the criminal justice system, a new study has found.

First established in 1975, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of America’s longest-running cash assistance programs.

Proponents of the tax credit, which has long had bipartisan support, typically argue that it promotes work and reduces poverty. But a study recently published on the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network Open suggests that it may also help reduce criminal convictions among young people.

In 2021, upwards of 25 million tax filers received $60 billion from the credit, which is only available to low- and middle-income workers. Many tax filers also benefit from credits from states that have their own version of the EITC.

“It lifts millions of people, including children, out of poverty each year,” said Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington and co-author of the study.

Using National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data, Rowhani-Rahbar’s team found that each $1,000 of credit during childhood was associated with an 11% lower risk of conviction of kids who benefited between the ages of 14 and 18.

Since a peak in the mid-1990s, youth arrests have been on a steady decline. The decrease isn’t attributed directly to any one thing, including the EITC.

The study doesn’t say exactly why or how the EITC might be leading to fewer young people being convicted of crimes. But Rowhani-Rahbar explained that one of the reasons they wanted to study the EITC included speculation about some of the ways in which it could benefit families.

“We think there are some mechanisms or as we call them causal pathways through which economic support could reduce the risk of delinquency and…criminal convictions such as reducing stress within the family, providing better support in terms of housing, schools, neighborhoods, services, and so the dollar amounts that people receive as part of EITC may be life-changing,” he said.

Rowhani-Rahbar did acknowledge some limitations of the study, noting that it’s possible there were factors they didn’t account for and that they relied on self-reporting about criminal convictions that may not always be accurate.

He also stressed that the EITC isn’t a magic bullet to the issue of juvenile crime, which is a complicated issue caused by many factors.

“It’s certainly not a panacea. It’s certainly not the only solution, but what we’re saying is that it might be one solution,” he said.

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