In 2014, the municipal water source in Flint, Michigan was switched, causing lead from aging pipes to leach into the city’s drinking water. While lead exposure in Flint children increased modestly on average, some children were exposed to high lead levels. Surveys of Flint residents show the water crisis was also associated with increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. We use Michigan’s administrative education data and utilize synthetic control methods to examine the impact of the crisis on Flint’s school-age children. We find decreases in math achievement and increases in special needs classification, even among children living in homes with copper (rather than lead) water service lines. Low socioeconomic status students and younger students experienced the largest effects on math achievement, and boys experienced the largest effects on special needs classification. Our results point toward the broad negative effects of the crisis on children and suggest that existing estimates may substantially underestimate the overall societal cost of the crisis.

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Iron Will

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