Cumulative Payments Through the Earned Income Tax Credit Program in Childhood and Criminal Conviction During Adolescence in the US

JAMA Netw Open. 2022 Nov 1;5(11):e2242864. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.42864.


Importance: Childhood poverty is associated with poor health and behavioral outcomes. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), first implemented in 1975, is the largest cash transfer program for working families with low income in the US.

Objective: To assess whether cumulative EITC payments received during childhood are associated with the risk of criminal conviction during adolescence.

Design, setting, and participants: In this cohort study, the analytic sample consisted of US children enrolled in the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth. The children were born between 1979 and 1998 and were interviewed as adolescents (age 15-19 years) between 1994 and 2016. Data analyses were performed from May 2021 to September 2022.

Exposure: Cumulative simulated EITC received by the individual's family from birth through age 14 years.

Main outcomes and measures: The main outcome was dichotomous, self-reported conviction for a crime during adolescence (age 14-18 years). A cumulative, simulated measure of mean EITC benefits received by a child's family from birth through age 14 years was derived from federal, state, and family-size differences in EITC eligibility and payments during the study period to capture EITC benefit variation due to differences in policy parameters but not endogenous factors such as changes in household income. Logistic regression models with fixed effects for state and year and robust SEs clustered by mother estimated relative risk of adolescent conviction. Models were adjusted for state-, mother-, and child-level covariates.

Results: The analytical sample consisted of 5492 adolescents born between 1979 and 1998; 2762 (50.3%) were male, 1648 (30.0%) were Black, 1125 (20.5%) were Hispanic, and 2719 (49.5%) were not Black or Hispanic. Each additional $1000 of EITC received during childhood was associated with an 11% lower risk of self-reported criminal conviction during adolescence (adjusted odds ratio, 0.89; 95% CI, 0.84-0.95). Adjusted risk differences were larger among boys (-14.2 self-reported convictions per 1000 population [95% CI, -22.0 to -6.3 per 1000 population]) than among girls (-6.2 per 1000 population [95% CI, -10.7 to -1.6 per 1000 population]).

Conclusions and relevance: The findings suggest that income support from the EITC may be associated with reduced youth involvement with the criminal justice system in the US. Cost-benefit analyses of the EITC should consider these longer-term and indirect outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Criminals*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income Tax*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mothers
  • Young Adult