The long-term effects of food stamps

I was so confused yesterday when the NBER email arrived because I didn’t remember it being Monday. Last week just kind of crept into this week and though I’m ready for my mountains and family, I didn’t expect it to come so fast!

A paper on that sells itself as a ray of sunshine in the midst of a bleak and dreary literature on children’s lifelong outcomes from exposure to poverty, maternal stress, fires, and more. And it’s kind of true. The maternal stress/in-utero distress papers seem to be getting a lot of play lately (here’s one). Hillary Hoynes, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Douglas Almond think perhaps we should look at long-run positive outcomes from the things (read: policies and social safety net programs) we can control. The abstract for “Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net” reads:

A growing economics literature establishes a causal link between in utero shocks and health and human capital in adulthood. Most studies rely on extreme negative shocks such as famine and pandemics. We are the first to examine the impact of a positive and policy-driven change in economic resources available in utero and during childhood. In particular, we focus on the introduction of a key element of the U.S. safety net, the Food Stamp Program, which was rolled out across counties in the U.S. between 1961 and 1975. We use the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to assemble unique data linking family background and county of residence in early childhood to adult health and economic outcomes. The identification comes from variation across counties and over birth cohorts in exposure to the food stamp program. Our findings indicate that the food stamp program has effects decades after initial exposure. Specifically, access to food stamps in childhood leads to a significant reduction in the incidence of “metabolic syndrome” (obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes) and, for women, an increase in economic self-sufficiency. Overall, our results suggest substantial internal and external benefits of the safety net that have not previously been quantified.

I tried to read it on the plane, but was distracted by an early, incorrectly used semi-colon. Yes, that’s enough to make me stop reading a paper (especially after wading through 19 student papers with many incorrectly used semi-colons). I’ll get back it to it later, promise.

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