Poverty has long been known as a contributing factor of criminal behavior. Poverty is often associated with poor education, a stressful family environment, hunger, and in many cases behavioral problems.
A New York Times Opinionator piece indicates that a yearly $6000 stipend given to Cherokee Indians living in poverty in North Carolina has had a profound effect on not only the adults, but on the children as well. The author of the opinion pieceMoises Velasquez-Manoff, writes that within four years of a Cherokee-run casino distributing yearly stipend checks children living below the poverty line saw a forty percent decline in psychiatric orders.
Epidemiologist Jane Costello, who had been following the children before the casino started distributing stipends, also found that minor crimes dropped and graduation rates rose. The study showed that the stipend was particularly beneficial when received early in a child’s life, and that Cherokee children living in more affluent households were less affected by the stipend.
The annual stipend, which increased over the years, is credited with helping to raise parenting skills among poverty stricken recipients.
The Times piece is certain to create a buzz among advocates searching for ways to prevent children from entering the juvenile criminal justice system. It costs far more for a child to navigate that system than it does to provide a stipend that would lift a family out of poverty. The end result is also far better. But in a time of fiscal conservancy, when the push is on to cut welfare benefits that barely sustain recipients, offering a state or federal subsidized stipend to raise families out of poverty is not something many legislators would consider.
But the fact that a small yearly stipend was found to lessen psychiatric and behavioral problems among children, advance their education, reduce substance abuse, decrease crime, and increase parenting skills is an idea that many are finding hard to ignore.