As we look forward to this weekend’s global poverty festival, we’ve got some stark new census numbers to consider about poverty right here at home. 1 in 5 American children live in poverty. 1 in 5. And at a time when inequality is rising and class mobility is falling, chances are that if you’re born at the bottom you’re going to stay there. These problems of generational poverty can feel impossible to solve, intractable. But in fact, we may be on the cusp of a major breakthrough in figuring out how to give kids born into poverty today the best shot at a prosperous future. And those new insights are coming from an unlikely place, mother rats.
15 years back a scientist noticed some of his mama lab rats treated their babies better than others- they were always licking and grooming their little ones. And these particularly well-groomed baby rats weren’t just happier or more loved, they were better at mazes, healthier, and lived longer.
Now in the new book “A Path Appears” Pulitzer prize-winning, married journalists Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn argue the rats are really onto something. That the care, cuddling and soothing human parents provide to a children in their first few years have huge impacts on child’s developments.
And that intervention from birth is both less expensive and more effecting in preventing poverty.
On my web show Krystal Clear this week I spoke with Kristoff and Wudunn about why early intervention is so critical.
And currently we are paying on the back end with higher rates of crime, more prisons and generations stuck in poverty. So why is it that we invest the most at the university level where the impact is the least? I suspect one reason is an instinctive aversion to big government telling us how to raise our kids. Another possibility is condescension towards impoverished parents who some believe aren’t and never will be up to the task when in fact the overwhelming majority want the best for their kids but may just need some coaching and support to get there. But another reason why these sorts of early intervention programs are only available to about 3% of the population that could benefit from them is that children, babies don’t have lobbyists, and don’t make campaign contributions, and can’t vote. So someone else has to be their advocate, their voice. It’s on us to speak for them, to fight for them and to not succumb to cynicism. Because 50 years later, the War on Poverty is still winnable.