Paul Krugman's column yesterday is called "poverty is poison" and refers to the growing literature on how poverty harms children's mental development. He uses this as a starting point to complain that both Obama and Clinton's anti-poverty proposals are "modest in scope and far from central to their campaigns."
I think this is unfair -- as Shawn Fremstad at Inclusion argues, "Calling Clinton's and Obama's anti-poverty initiatives 'modest in scope' only makes sense if one thinks that calling for say, universal health care, has little do with reducing poverty and isn't part of an anti-poverty initiative." And even if you only look at more narrowly defined anti-poverty programs, the Pathways articles I mentioned last week contain proposals that are far from modest.
But that's not really what I want to talk about. Krugman quotes this sentence from the Financial Times article: “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.”
Two things are striking in that sentence:
1) The "with low social status" part of that sentence suggests that it's relative poverty, not material deprivation, that causes the stunted neural development. Margy Waller at Inclusion may be unhappy that Krugman's still talking about "poverty," but this point is totally consistent with their overall argument. (More on this later -- I'm in the middle of reading Robert Frank's Falling Behind, which is all about relative status.)
2) It suggests that stress is the main connection between poverty and poor child outcomes, not lack of educational experiences or the other things we talked about last week.
Unfortunately, the AAAS presentations that this statement is based on don't seem to be available online. Some of the speakers have other papers available, but they're pretty technical, so it may take a while before I have the energy to work through them.