The Difference A Dollar Makes: UConn Research Finds Minimum Wage Increase Reduces Maltreatment of Children

It has been nearly a year since a study co-authored by UConn Assistant Professor of Public Policy Kerri M. Raissian appeared in the academic journal Children and Youth Services Review, but the interest hasn’t waned.  In fact, it now tops the list of downloaded articles in the past 90 days from the journal’s website. The article, which Raissian co-authored with Lindsey Rose Bullinger, asks – and answers – this question:  Does the minimum wage affect child maltreatment rates?

Short answer, according to their research:  yes. 

Raising the minimum wage by $1 per hour would result in a substantial decrease in the number of reported cases of child neglect, according to a study co-authored by Raissian and Bullinger.  They reviewed eleven years of records on child abuse and neglect and found that increases in the minimum wage correlate with declining child maltreatment rates.

A $1 increase would result in 9,700 (9.6 percent) fewer reported cases of child neglect annually as well as a likely decrease in cases of physical abuse, Bullinger explained on the website, where their study was featured earlier this year. This decline is concentrated among young children (ages 0–5) and school-aged children (ages 6–12); the effect diminishes among adolescents and is not significant, the study’s abstract points out.

“Our results suggest that policies that increase incomes of the working poor can improve children's welfare, especially younger children, quite substantially,” the authors conclude in their 70-page article on the study.

"Money matters," Bullinger noted on "When caregivers have more disposable income, they're better able to provide a child's basic needs such as clothing, food, medical care and a safe home. Policies that increase the income of the working poor can improve children's welfare, especially younger children, quite substantially."

More than 30 states had minimum wages exceeding the federal requirement by an average of $1 during the study period, allowing the researchers to track changes in the number of reports to child protective service agencies with increases in the minimum wage.  Data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System was used in the research.

The substantial decrease in child neglect cases is concentrated among toddlers and school-age children, but changes in the minimum wage had little impact on reports of neglect of teenagers. The researchers found no variation based on a child's race.

“Families with low incomes have a great ability to make a dollar go a long way. On average, the weekly SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food stamp benefit for a family of three is about $30. That’s about what a one dollar an hour minimum wage increase translates into for full-time workers. Other studies show that a $1,000 tax refund results in similar declines in child maltreatment – neglect, specifically. So for really low-income families that probably have pretty severe material deprivation or economic hardship, that extra dollar can make a really big difference,” Raissian told UConn Today.

Raissian’s research interests are linked by a common focus on child and family policy, according to the university’s website.  Her dissertation, “Assessing the Role and Impact of Public Policy on Child and Family Violence,” evaluated the efficacy of policies designed to reduce violence directed towards intimate partners, children, and other family members. Her professional background includes nearly 10 years of government and nonprofit sector experience, which focused on serving abused adults and children.

Bullinger is associate instructor in the school of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University at Bloomington.  Both attended Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

“Most of the states don’t have a minimum wage at or above $10; Connecticut does. It’s possible Connecticut may be at the threshold,” Raissian said in an interview featured in UConn Today. “It’s also really important to note that, while our study looks at the minimum wage, this could really be an income story – remember other studies find similar results when incomes are increased in other ways. Our very low-income families might be facing other reductions in their incomes that will be costly to us as a state. We should consider that, moving forward.”