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New Report: Guaranteed Income Recipients Describe Benefits to Children

Rockville, Md.  –  Parents participating in guaranteed income (GI) pilot programs in four cities have experienced notable benefits linked to better child outcomes, according to a new report from Abt Global and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (MGI). Prior research shows that poverty negatively affects children throughout their lives, from physical and mental health to earnings and educational attainment—and, typically, the longer children experience poverty, the worse their outcomes in adulthood. GI is a policy that provides cash directly to families as a resource to invest in materially improving their children’s well-being, reducing the stress and trauma families experience while living in poverty.

Abt’s new report analyzes the experiences of, and quotes directly from, MGI-funded pilot participants in Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala. Louisville, Ky.; and Shreveport, La. Parents and caregivers were better able to provide resources for their children’s needs, such as clothing and food, and better housing for children’s safety. They described being able to be more present and engaged with their children, and invest in their development and enrichment activities.

Abt interviewed 67 parents participating in GI pilot participants in person or over video seven to 10 months into their pilots, which launched in the first half of 2022, three to 12 months after COVID-related income supports ended. Each participant received 12 monthly payments, though the amount varied by city (from $375 to $660 per family). The typical participant holds a high school diploma and was the sole adult in the household—acting as both the primary provider and the primary parent or caregiver. Parents typically earned about $15,368 per year working full-time, rented their home, and participated in one or more safety net programs.

Key Findings

Participants spoke about improvements to several different aspects of their day-to-day lives, including:

  • Basic needs: All interviewees reported that GI allowed them to provide for their children’s basic material needs in ways they could not before. Parents were able to obtain stable housing for their families, decrease food insecurity for the household, address children’s health needs, and/or buy them necessities such as clothes and shoes.

It keeps me afloat when I can’t afford groceries. The first time, it was like a weight lifted off my shoulder because [the GI payment] came in time because I actually needed groceries. And I had the money to buy the groceries for that month.

  • Educational Outcomes and Children’s Development: GI helped improve many children’s relationships to school, including their behavior, academic performance, and enthusiasm. Though these are short-term changes, research has found that higher family income correlates to children’s cognitive development and educational attainment—most likely because it creates a better home environment and better parental mental health, conditions that are more conducive to that development.

My son, he was really acting out a lot during the time of me working two jobs. Mostly because I just wasn’t around enough. So, he doesn’t do that at all now because he’s getting more attention. So, he’s not trying to seek that from school. He’s getting it at home.

  • Enrichment, Parent-Child Bonding and Parental Confidence: GI allowed parents to provide for their children’s emotional and social development and to provide family experiences that promoted stronger parent-child bonds. This manifested across several dimensions. Parents were empowered to navigate their employment in ways that supported their parenting. Many reported improvements in their mental health due to the reduction in stress, and those improvements carried over into their parenting.

[I]t’s helping me become a better person, a better parent, I think, just in general. It gave me hope… My kids, they deserve the world. They deserve the world. And when something so small, the 25 cents piece of candy, I can’t afford it, it breaks my heart to have to tell them no… But now, I’m able to say yes more, and they’re more excited… So, it gave them hope, too.

“In their interviews, parents emphasized the ways receiving guaranteed income radiated through their family’s lives. By reducing their financial stress, parents were able to be there for their children in ways they had always wanted to but had not always been able,” explained co-Principal Investigator Anna Jefferson. “These interviews are promising evidence—like prior research on cash transfers—that GI improves families’ situations immediately and lets them invest in activities with potential long-term payoffs. We’re looking forward to sharing full results that also measure the size and type of effects of GI were for all pilot participants.”

This qualitative report presents the first findings from Abt’s mixed-methods evaluations of each pilot. Final reports will be available in the first half of 2024.

“The stories in this brief are emotionally moving. Too many parents are put into impossible situations, working multiple jobs and coming home still consumed with anxiety about how they’ll provide for their family,” said MGI co-chair Michael D. Tubbs. “The sense of relief that comes with guaranteed income allows parents to focus more on what their family needs, and it’s common sense that both parents and children benefit.”

MGI is a nationwide coalition of more than 100 mayors who advocate for GI as a tool for economic justice, and provides funding and technical assistance for cities looking to implement their own GI pilots. MGI contracted Abt to evaluate several such pilots, including those cited in this brief.

About Abt Global
Abt Global is a global consulting and research firm that combines data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people's lives. We partner with clients and communities to advance equity and innovation—from creating scalable digital solutions and combatting infectious disease, to mitigating climate change and evaluating programs for measurable social impact.

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