Crack Babies Grew Up OK; It's Poverty That's the Real Problem

AlamyA low-birth weight baby born to a woman who used crack cocaine during her pregnancy sleeps inside a hospital incubator.
In the 1980s, the crack baby epidemic was hard to ignore. Television show after television show, article after article proclaimed that children born to addicts of the increasingly prevalent "crack" cocaine were all-but-guaranteed to have birth defects, including extremely low IQs and severe emotional problems. This "lost generation," commentators emphasized, would be incapable of forming relationships or reaching full emotional maturity. They would be, in the words of Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, condemned to "a life of certain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority."

A little over 20 years later, Krauthammer's predictions have proven almost embarrassingly inaccurate. Last week, the findings of a 24-year-long study of crack babies revealed that parental use of the drug had little or no direct effect on the children. In the process of investigating the babies, however, researchers discovered another environmental problem that did, in fact, lead to problems with depression, anxiety, cognitive functioning, and a host of other issues: poverty.

In 1989, Dr. Hallam Hurt, chair of the neonatology department at Philadelphia's Albert Einstein Medical Center, began tracking 224 near-term or full-term children who were born to crack addicts. In the ensuing years, her longitudinal study followed the children, finding that, overall, their IQs were about the same as a control group of children of non-addicted mothers. Further, the children in Hurt's study had comparable outcomes when it came to educational and emotional development.

That having been said, Hurt's study found that children raised in poverty -- regardless of whether or not their mothers were addicted to crack -- tended to have lower IQs and lower school readiness than those who weren't raised in poverty.
A big part of the problem, she argues, is environmental: Of the children in her study, "81 percent of the children had seen someone arrested; 74 percent had heard gunshots; 35 percent had seen someone get shot; and 19 percent had seen a dead body outside." The children themselves acknowledged the effect of these events: "Those children who reported a high exposure to violence were likelier to show signs of depression and anxiety and to have lower self-esteem."

In other words, while prenatal crack abuse may not have a major effect on children, the societal conditions in crack-ravaged communities most certainly do. As Hurt emphasized, "Given what we learned, we are invested in better understanding the effects of poverty. How can early effects be detected? Which developing systems are affected? And most important, how can findings inform interventions for our children?" Or, to put it another way, now that we understand that poverty is more dangerous for children than crack, what can we do to protect our children from its effects?

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Managing your Portfolio

Keeping your portfolio and financial life fit!

View Course »

How Financial Planners go Grocery Shopping

Learn to shop smart and save.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

If the parents drop out of school and refuse to get an education thinking they know it all, thats what happens to their children. Being in poverty is nobodys fault but the parents. Society does not owe them a living. Government or public assistance might pay for the first one as long as the parents both sign off on the mother getting a tubal ligation while the doctors are "in there already." The problem with the taxpayer raising multiple children to the same parents would be eliminated. You pay, you can keep having kids, we pay you get one. Just an opinion.;

July 31 2013 at 10:15 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to me's comment

Agree totally. A mature adult can pay there way and can do as they wish such as have as many children as they wish. But when you act like a child and need to be supported by others then you have to live under the other peoples rules. Those rules being you need to be sterilized if you can't afford to support those you bring into the world. Why is this way of thinking considered "terrrible" and taking away peoples rights. Isn't it taking away from the rights of tax paying people to allow the constant multiplication of those who are so irresponsible????

July 31 2013 at 10:24 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

saw a bumper sticker once " Stupid People Shouldn't Breed" just saying...............................

July 31 2013 at 8:03 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The best way is to take our kids out of poverty by keeping our money here at home and stop sending it overseas

July 31 2013 at 7:56 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Such fatherless children bring money to those unwed moms though. Who cares they'd grow up to become drug addicts, remain uneducated and poor?

July 31 2013 at 7:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jcduyal's comment

You are correct,,,but,,,we the working people,,,feed them,,,,,,,section 8 them,,,ebt card them,,,,,,,on and on and on.......that is the Democrate Way,,and,,be honest,,,,THE REPUBLICANS ARE GETTING THAT WAY TOO.....

July 31 2013 at 8:21 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

It would seem the message here is if you live in poverty, don't have kids....

July 31 2013 at 7:00 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kermb's comment



July 31 2013 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We have certainly done a marvelous job in cleaning up Al Qeada! After spending a TRILLION DOLLARS, leaving the US on the brink of bankruptcy, slaughtering hundreds of thousands, and continuing to fight needless wars all over the world, they still are around.


I know what you mean Boozie darling. It is a shame that me and all those other democrats lied for years and said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction long before President Bush came into to office.

I found it interesting that President Obama calls the war in Afghanistan the good war dearest.

July 31 2013 at 6:47 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mrspelosi's comment

HELLO mrspelosi ,,,,,,,,,How are you tonight.????


July 31 2013 at 8:23 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

As did Bush, but I guess your limited ability to learn has kept you from researching the fact, that a program similiar to Fast & Furious was run by the Bush administration. Better yet, Reagan arming the Contra's, no 2,500 weapons, instead, hundreds of thousands of military grade firearms.


Sam darling how unfortunate for you that you wander through life in a state of confusion doll. The Bush administraion was not involved with the fast and furious scandal darling. Your Bush derangement syndome is so out of control. How unfortunte for you dear.

July 31 2013 at 6:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Crack cocaine the brain child of the C.I.A. as an easy way to fund their operations world wide

July 31 2013 at 6:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to blackcoffeeparty's comment

Be honest change your name to blackkoolaidparty

July 31 2013 at 6:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Ok. In other words, Krauthammer's god, the free market, is actually far more dangerous to children born in poverty, than drug use while in vitro. So, its Krauthammer that's the problem, and not the crack cocaine. Funny how that has worked out. I never like that sniveling appologist for capitalism's excesses. Nice to see that he was wrong. Means he's been wrong most of his career. But, of course, he'll never be confronted and held to account. Media never eats its own.

July 31 2013 at 4:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

To starmap: Many times racism still exists in the US as if it is still 1950s. But you would not understand that since you are obviously not a person of color and have not had these experiences

Also, I do not agree with this article. As a middle school teacher, I have first hand experience with the ravages of crack on children.

July 31 2013 at 4:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply