Another Reason to Raise the Minimum Wage

This research is really troubling.

A 2015 study from Harvard and MIT performed brain imaging on a group of 12- and 13-year-olds, and found those from lower-income families had thinner brain cortex around key intellectual areas. Further, a 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience, “Family Income, Parental Education and Brain Structure in Children and Adolescents,” analyzed brain surface area — a measure different than cortical thickness — of 1,099 persons from ages 3 to 20 and correlated that with socioeconomic status, representing the largest study of its kind to date. More than two dozen researchers, led by Kimberly G. Noble of Columbia University, performed brain imaging and looked at relationships with household income levels, as well as education levels of the subjects’ parents.

The study found that family income was associated with greater brain surface area, and that the relationship was especially substantial for lower-income children:
“For every dollar in increased income, the increase in children’s brain surface area was proportionally greater at the lower end of the family-income spec­trum.”
The researchers could only speculate about the precise reasons for the link between income status and brain structure; they suggested it might stem from “family stress, cognitive stimulation, environmental toxins or nutrition, or from corresponding differences in the prenatal environment.”

The researchers concluded that “policies targeting families at the low end of the income distribution may be most likely to lead to observable differences in children’s brain and cognitive development.” The researchers were careful to note that these differences in the brains of poor children were not “immutable,” and that there were variations within all income categories.

 Still, the correlation is profoundly consequential, not just for the children themselves, but for an American future that will require the participation and talent of all of our citizens.

There are all kinds of arguments for a living wage–fundamental fairness, the amelioration of social unrest, the fact that economic growth requires growing the number of consumers with disposable income, the fact that taxpayers end up subsidizing the bottom lines of major companies paying poverty wages. But this research provides another compelling reason to increase the incomes of poor working families.

As a country, we give a lot of lip service to children’s wellbeing. We need to put our money where our mouths are.


  1. The cures for poverty are well known. Living wage jobs for those with marginal skills, education, day care, transportation. Plus we’ve added a relatively new one. The corrosive effects created by advertising.

    As in “1984” our air is polluted with powerful images and spoken words reminding the poor of what they are missing. Respect, virtually regal luxury on the other side of the tracks, pride only for athletes and rap stars, simple justice. Instead they are offered drugs, prostitutes and fat food. And probably prison.

    All of these have solutions but many in our non-system must come from the sector of our nation that has only a single motivation. Moving wealth from labor to the few. Does anybody really think that a system so simple as to measure success from a single number is capable of solving complex social issues? Of course not. Blindly obvious.

    The wonder is that angry revolutions as we see in Baltimore are infrequent.

    To all of those woes we will add the burden of adapting to a new climate that those same business folks are creating in service of their single number success measure.

    The poor will be forced to move where the flooding is, where the rain is not, where destructive winds blow. Everyone else will relocate into the pockets where familiar weather has been moved.

    This is what conservative extremists promise. This is not their vision, they really have none except returning to the past, but this is the reality that they will bring about in service of their single success measure, harvesting the poor.

  2. I just read and commented on a post from Wisconsin where Republicans are trying to ban the poor from using their food stamps (the few still allowed this luxury handout) to purchase potatoes, pickles and spices. This in addition to trying to stop raising the minimum wage – or better wages for those who are underpaid – seems to be an attempt to starve poor Americans to death in every way possible, physically, mentally and emotionally. Having worked with multi-service centers in the past, I could see first-hand the lower level of intelligence and awareness in the poorer households. Poorly stocked pantrys and the lack of books and/or newspapers to feed body and soul deprives the brain of all nourishment. The lack of motivation or encouragement from underpaid/under educated/under fed parents or guardians to become better educated needs to be fed in many ways to improve current conditions. A living wage and basic food staples would be a good start to begin seeing positive changes in future testing such as those mentioned in today’s blog.

  3. Pete,

    You pretty much said it all.

    I would just add, that the small waves from the Fergusons, Baltimores et al, we are all observing, are just minor indications, at this time, of a massive build-up of a powerful, catastrophic defensive reaction to the coming socio/political tsunami driven by the extreme forces from the Right.

  4. Within the last few years I have read dire but credible predictions that a frighteningly high percentage of existing jobs will vanish in the next generation. Even though there will be new jobs created there will not be nearly as many as the jobs that will have ceased to exist. In short, there will be massive unemployment. How can America find the political will to deal with this? How can we work to see that unemployment will not yield to hunger, fear, injustice, oppression, meaninglessness, and despair?

    Our track record in dealing with such questions is poor. The issue is not simply economic or political but philosophical and spiritual. Unfortunately few of us can articulate philosophical ideas, and except in rare circles, spiritual matters reside in the hands of paranoid religious hucksters. This is not a good picture.

  5. BobG; in the mid 1970’s Alan Watts stated quite prophetically, “Man is going to computerize himself out of existence.” I see this in the fact that man is becoming more and more obsolete and unnecessary as computers take over jobs which once needed several men – or women – to accomplish.

    Still referring to massive unemployment and your question, “How can America find the political will to deal with this?” We must attack pollution in all it’s forms; it will take bipartisan political will to begin by agreeing that Climate Change and Global Warming are facts…not fiction. The movie, “Soylent Green” was the ultimate in science fiction when released in approximately 1984; it is closer and closer to becoming reality. For those who don’t remember or are unfamiliar with this classic movie; unemployment and starvation were primary side-effects of pollution and overcrowding due to drastic climate change exacerbated by global warming. Jules Verne’s books were once science fiction – today much of their content is part of our daily lives.

  6. BobG,

    There’s another issue involved. It’s the PHYSICAL and it’s pre-empting all the other issues in this zero-sum game we’re playing with the Extreme Right.

    We have to find out a way to effectively engage this dangerous reality in a non-violent way. Gandhi and King like marches are not the answer in this environment. It’s too late in the game.

    The opposition forces must be convinced that they cannot succeed in the direction they’re traveling. That was the strategy of the White Rose Movement toward the end of the Nazi era.
    And it was highly effective.

  7. The brain research is compelling and this is not the only study showing that poverty and
    childhood stresses impair brain development. But there is a remedy.

    I encourage you to consult http://www.brainwaresafari which is clinical, cognitive development therapy wrapped in the skin of video games. Pilot programs in schools have shown an average of 6 years cognitive growth and 2 years of academic growth in 12 weeks time if students do the challenging games 3 times per week for 45-60 minutes per time. While students in all ranges benefit, slower learners show the greatest growth. Kids love the games and gain the ability to process what they are taught and demonstrate better concentration, focus, ability to pay attention, and impulse controls with this program. It works for adults too. Full disclosure – I’ve done some consulting for this company and wouldn’t have bothered without the phenomenal results for students.

  8. If the goal is to redistribute wealth and to open mobility between the classes, more energetic and effective ideas need to be explored.

    Increasing the minimum wage only has minor impact. I do not say that I agree with any of the below, but the below measures will ensure much greater circulation among the classes than any plans currently or historically proposed.

    1. A wealth tax. If the goal is redistribution, then do it, directly. All wealth above a threshold is forfeited to the redistribution fund.

    2. A maximum annual income. All income above a threshold is forfeited to the redistribution fund.

    3. Establish a livable minimum income. Excess wealth captured will be deposited in a fund that pays a minimum income to every person. A minimum income keeps people from being forced into wage slave dehumanizing jobs.

    4. Establish a livable pension for every person.

    5. Ban all sales taxes and all consumption taxes. These are just crushing taxes on the poor that limit social mobility.

    6. Ban unreviewed hiring and “purple squirrel” postings. This one is very important, as when the rich are allowed to hire the rich or family is allowed to hire family, the aristocracy is perpetuated. A plaintiff’s attorney should be able to walk into any employer, ask for the hiring file, and see the public posting for every position, the duration of the posting, the qualifications listed, the candidates who applied, and the date that the candidates applied. If a family member holds a position, the family member better be the most qualified candidate. If qualifications are listed, they must be the minimum necessary to perform the job. If a preferred hire is made, the hire will immediately lose the position, and the employer will pay triple the already paid salary to the Redistribution Fund.

    7. Ban training, education or experience requirements for any job paying less than $50K. These jobs pay so little that no person who holds one should have to pay for his own training to get one.

    8. Limit inherited and pre-death transferred wealth.

    9. Cap the amount of wealthy to a minority at every private school, at every level.

    10. Cap corporate compensation to a multiple of the median income of the lowest 30% of the company’s worker’s wages.

    11. Require corporations, including non-for-profits, to create and maintain a certain amount of jobs as a percentage of gross revenues.

    12. Impose high tariffs on all goods, services, intellectual property coming into or used from the United States that can be made or performed in the United States. if your customer-service call is routed to the Philippines, that call is subject to such a high tariff that it would force the company to open a call center in America. Draft legislation to exclude such noble and honest things as Italian suits, French wine and cheese, single-malt Scotch, etc., that are not primarily designed to steal American jobs.

    13. Ban regular registration fees or regular payments the lower incomes incur, such as license plates, auto insurance, passport fees, etc. These fees and costs only reduce the standard of living of the poor.

    14. Exempt lower incomes, or perhaps all, from government penalties such as speeding tickets, red-light violations, drug fines, ordinance violations, etc. Force the police into neighborhood peacekeeping and not revenue generation.

    Again, I do not necessarily agree with any of the above. I merely note that prior attempts to level society are poorly constructed and predestined for failure. The above will reorder society while making life happy, enjoyable and rewarding for almost all of the country.

    Copyright 2015, Gopper
    Don’t try me. I can prove first authorship.

  9. Gopper. It’s not as complicated as you suggest. Capitalism is self limiting as left to its own devices all of the wealth trickles upwards and at some point business runs out of workers and customers. Then, at least according to Marx, communism ensues through violent revolution. How can that be avoided? Market regulation to ensure competition, regressive taxation, and democracy without requiring politicians to beg for campaigning funds.

  10. Communism is a horrible idea, Pete.

    Within some wide guardrails, Capitalism is better at producing a wider array of goods and services and a better standard of living for a larger number.

    “Market regulation to ensure competition, regressive taxation, and democracy without requiring politicians to beg for campaigning funds.”

    These solutions are all failures.

    Competition is frequently destroyed with market regulation, because democracy enables and encourages crony capitalism, the end of which is the use of government to narrow market participants and to criminalize disfavored market participants. You’ve just described the Republicans’ dream regulatory scheme.

    Less market regulation is preferable to more. We want more market entrants, with less regulatory burdens to participation.

    We want a guy with $50 to his name to enter the automobile manufacturing business.

    Regressive taxation merely destroys the poor and concentrates wealth in the upper classes. More Republicanism.

    Democracy as practiced in America is a bad idea, regardless of funding. Since we will never see democracy in America stripped of campaign contributions, we would be better off dumping the entire system and exploring a constitutional monarchy.

  11. Reading the Blog and comments reminded me of the book “The Bell Curve” by Hermstein and Murray who explained their ideas about variations in intelligence in American Society. They felt that intelligence was one of, if not the most important factor correlated to economic, social and overall success in the USA and was largely 40% to 80% inheritable. No one has so far been able to manipulate IQ to a significant degree through changes in environmental factors, except for child adoption. They felt there were eleven economic and social correlates of IQ: US population distribution, Married by age 30, Out of labor force more than 1 month out of a year (men), Unemployed more than 1 month out of a year (men), Divorced in 5 years, % of children w/IQ in bottom decile (mothers), had an illegitimate baby (mothers), lives in poverty, ever incarcerated (men), Chronic welfare recipient (mothers), High School Dropout. The book argued that the average genetic IQ of the US is declining due to the tendency of the more intelligent to have fewer children than the less intelligent and the large-scale immigration to the US of those with low intelligence. They felt that to be conservative often meant doing whatever is necessary to preserve the mansions on the hills from the menace of the slums below. They predict total totalitarianism. They felt the precise description of America’s Fertility Policy is that it subsidizes births among poor women who are disproportionately at the low end of the intelligence distribution. The book sold overs 400,000 copies. Many agreed with the book and many did not, but it is sill around and makes for some interesting reading.

  12. “Communism is a horrible idea.”

    I agree. That’s why we have to save capitalism from itself. I know that you’ve been taught that Obama is a Communist but the truth is that he has saved capitalism from the ravages of Bush/Cheney.

    Nothing as simple as a one measure organism solves problems. It takes smart people who take the big picture into account. Someday we will have smart people capable of solving problems back in congress.

  13. “I know that you’ve been taught that Obama is a Communist but the truth is that he has saved capitalism from the ravages of Bush/Cheney. ”

    You are really bad at discussion and just generally a drag on any thread.

    Where do I ever talk about Obama or Obama being a Communist? Where did I talk about Obama in this thread? How is Obama even relevant to this thread? When you run out of even semi-sensible things to say, you just invent off-the-wall nonsense.

    Just another cheap red herring from you.

  14. Sheila you certainly attract some strange bedfellows. Bob, are you at all concerned?

  15. Pete, I always look forward to your insightful comments. You connect ideas and facts in ways that provide much food for thought.

    Gopper, your first comment was very interesting, although my own thought is that any confiscatory scheme simply will not work. What is needed is a floor at which a modest but secure life is guaranteed for all of our citizens, not punishment of the rich.

    The rest of your comments were simply unnecessary, except perhaps to burnish your curmudgeonly online persona.

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