Ten ways to reduce inequality without raising tax rates
10. Get the lead out
Jose Amaya stands with his sons Will, left, and Danny. Their home once had dangerous levels of lead, which can harm children. (Chris Lyford/The Washington Post)
It’s hard to overstate how important the removal of lead from household paint and gasoline has been in recent decades. There’s something approaching a consensus that deleading is responsible for the majority, if not the vast majority, of the decline in crime rates since the 1970s. One study says that 90 percent of the decline is attributable to deleading.
It’s not just crime. Much of the decline in teen pregnancy can be chalked up to deleading, and school performance is highly correlated with lead exposure. Even lead amounts below the so-called “safe” amount can reduce IQ by about 7 points. Lead is just a very dangerous chemical, one that hinders judgment in all manner of contexts.
We’ve done a pretty good job deleading, but the effort is by no means done. Many communities, primarily poor ones, still have buildings with lead pipes or lead-based paint. Children in such communities are liable to be exposed to crime, which leads to aggressive and cognitive/academic difficulties, to teen pregnancy, to commit crimes themselves, and to have lower cognitive functioning.
All of those reduce their lifetime earnings, and contribute to economic inequality. A more aggressive deleading effort would probably improve the economic prospects of children who otherwise would have been exposed, and in doing so reduce inequality.