Study: Kids More Likely To Be Abused When Gas Prices Are High

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Children are more likely to be abused when gas prices are high, according to a Washington University study.

The study found that rising gas prices make families worse off financially, making child abuse and neglect more likely. The price of gas controls the amount of disposable income a family has, which is closely linked to other social outcomes such as obesity and life satisfaction rates.

“Because fluctuations in the price of gas affect the amount of disposable income available to families, the results suggest that changes in disposable income predict changes in child maltreatment,” Michael McLaughlin, a doctoral student involved in the research, said in a press statement. “A spike in the price of gas, however, is an important exogenous shock to families’ income that may result in parental stress, material hardship, or other factors that commonly lead to child abuse or neglect.”

Researchers looked at national data reports from 2000-2010 on both child maltreatment referrals and average gasoline prices.

“Money matters to families, and economic fluctuations could lead to an increased number of children being placed in harm’s way,” McLaughlin said. “This knowledge is critical because it informs child protection workers regarding child welfare risk factors and provides legislators with information relevant to family policy.”

Roughly 6 million children in the U.S. are reported to Child Protective Services for child abuse and/or neglect, costing an estimated $124 billion annually.

The American Automobile Association found the average American is currently paying $2.29 for a gallon of gasoline. This 25-cents-per-gallon increase since this time last year is due to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) recent decision to cut oil production.

Even though gas prices are rising, they are relatively low by historic standards — prices at this time in 2014 averaged around $3.50 a gallon.

Experts generally agree that today’s relatively cheap gas prices are due to inexpensive oil and cheap natural gas-fired electricity provided by fracking and horizontal drilling. Energy prices dropped 41 percent over the course of 2015 due to fracking. Other commodities fell in price as well, but not nearly as much as energy, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Most analysts agree that low prices at the pump are also enormously beneficial to American households, which tend to use cash not spent on gasoline to save more or pay down debt. While other analysts claim that the extra money is spent on luxury goods, such as eating out at restaurants. Cheap gasoline, however, disproportionately helps poorer families and other lower-income groups because fuel costs eat up a larger share of their more limited earnings.

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