It takes a lifetime to fix the damage done by childhood poverty.

Children are stressed by not having enough to eat or not knowing where they are going to sleep, leaving them unprepared to learn in school and to get a good start in life. Such adverse childhood experiences, common in poor households, are associated with later substance use disorders and other chronic diseases, as well as lower earnings and early death.

A government policy that moved families out of poverty would spare children from these sad outcomes. Fortunately, Maine has such a program.

According to an analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy, roughly 87,000 Mainers received a $1-an-hour raise Jan. 1 as the minimum wage rose to $11 per hour. Over the course of the year, thousands more who earn near the minimum will see their wages pushed up. A $1 increase last year resulted in relieving 10,000 Maine children from a life of poverty by putting more money in their households. It was the largest decrease in child poverty seen in at least a decade.

That’s great news, not just for those children’s immediate well-being, but for the rest of their lives as well.

It’s hard to single out the impact of just one factor in a complicated economy, but this progress can be directly linked to Maine’s minimum-wage hike and not just a strong economy. The child poverty rate dropped at a faster rate in Maine than in other states that also experienced economic growth but did not increase pay for the lowest earners.


In 2016, Maine voters approved increasing the minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $9, and then increased it by $1 a year until 2020, when it will reach $12. After that, the minimum wage will increase with the Consumer Price Index, a common measure for inflation.

Two years in, the program has delivered what its proponents promised. Maine incomes experienced their highest growth in the last 20 years, with the bottom 25 percent of earners seeing the fastest increase. That has not been the national pattern in our age of income inequality.

It’s also important to remember what did not happen: Wages rose without any loss in the rate of job growth, or decline in the number of hours worked per employee, both consequences that had been threatened by the wage bill’s opponents.

The evidence supports this kind of government intervention, which puts money into the pockets of people who will spend it, over tax cuts for the wealthiest, who are more likely to save the extra cash and not generate economic activity.

But for the thousands of children who won’t have to live in poverty, it’s not just economics. More stable and secure homes now could help them avoid a lifetime of pain.

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