Every child should have the opportunity to thrive and achieve their full potential regardless of the conditions they are born into. Yet for many of the children in Hawaii, the socioeconomic status at the time of their birth and early childhood can either set them ahead or hold them behind.

As a state, we can make the future of our children a priority by investing in a modest tax credit. The Earned Income Tax Credit is a common sense credit that helps unleash the potential of children by reducing economic hardships in the family.

From birth on, the positive impact of increasing household income, even by small amounts, is clear. Moms who received the EITC saw an increase in birth weight for their children and reported better maternal health.

Individuals who experienced toxic stress as children are more likely to suffer from serious health conditions, like asthma, lupus and diabetes.

Individuals who experienced toxic stress as children are more likely to suffer from serious health conditions, like asthma, lupus and diabetes.

Flickr: Grant Barrett

The opposite is also true. Children who grow up in lower socioeconomic status households begin kindergarten behind their peers. They score lower on national tests, are more likely to be absent from school, and have an increase in dropout rates—all of which decrease the likelihood of going to college and decrease earnings as an adult.

Stress linked to lower socioeconomic conditions can have the same effect on development. Stress due to economic hardships is categorized as toxic stress, the same type of stress as exposure to violence, chronic neglect, and physical or emotional abuse.

When toxic stress is continuous it can have a toll on a child’s physical and mental health over their lifetime. Individuals who experienced toxic stress as children are more likely to suffer from serious health conditions, like asthma, lupus, and diabetes. Additionally, critical brain development can be hindered when children are exposed to toxic stress. From infancy to adolescence, exposure to toxic stress can cause the brain to cease development in certain areas.

We as a community and a state, do not benefit when only some of our children succeed.

The impact of adults not earning college degrees and reducing their earning potential negatively affects our state. We know that workers with less education have lower earnings, which can continue the cycle of poverty but it also reduces the revenue our state can collect.

For Hawaii in particular, where our low-income families pay a greater share of taxes than the wealthy, this can have a dramatic impact on what the state can do for its residents. Less revenue for the state means less money for education, public safety and other critical areas.

A simple remedy to mitigate some of the negative impacts of growing up in poverty would be to put more money into families’ pockets. Increasing the household income by $3,000 has huge benefits. Children perform better in school, they are more likely to go onto college and their earnings as adults increase by 17 percent.

But even a smaller amount of money can still play an important role. If the state adopted an EITC set at 10 percent of the federal credit, a qualifying family with two children would receive $337. As the University of Hawaii, Center on the Family noted, this would be a cost-effective way to help low-income families meet their basic needs with their own income—reducing stress within the family.

We as a community and a state, do not benefit when only some of our children succeed. The circumstances a child is born into should not predict how far they will go in life. We can choose to support all children and to invest in their future and our own.

A state EITC is a simple, cost effective strategy. It puts money directly into the pockets of working parents. By reducing the stress caused by economic hardships we are giving the children of our state a once in a life opportunity to succeed.

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