PROJECTInvesting in Youth through Direct Cash Transfers

High school kids hanging out in school after classes

Numerous studies have found that conditional and unconditional cash transfers have positive impacts on schooling, nutrition, and employment outcomes and are associated with reductions in criminal activity, lower rates of income volatility, lower rates of food insecurity, and improved well-being. However, there remain many questions about how cash transfers work, which types work better in which settings, and whether giving funds directly to youth to prevent violence exposure can be successful. It is also unknown whether pairing after-school programming with a cash transfer can increase the likelihood of positive outcomes.

Over the summer and fall of 2021, the Urban Institute worked with the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services to recruit participants for a cash transfer study aimed at reducing rates of violence among young men in Wilmington. The Yes! Study included young men between the ages of 14 and 17 who were randomly assigned to one of three groups:

  • an after-school program combined with a cash transfer that participants received if they attended the first few weeks of programming (a partial conditional cash transfer),
  • a cash transfer without any program requirements (an unconditional cash transfer), or
  • a waitlisted group that served as a control group and received no treatment until after the study was complete.

Cash transfers that are designed to reduce crime often prove difficult to implement from a political perspective. Some opponents believe that people who need financial assistance are untrustworthy and that their financial position reflects a moral failing rather than a societal one. Yet our study shows that direct cash transfers to young people who have high exposure to violence not only do not increase negative behaviors but reduce them. Specifically, we find that the cash transfer alone increased healthy behaviors among young people—such as reducing drug and alcohol use and physical fights—and that the programming in addition to the cash transfer improved participants’ financial health. Additionally, none of our findings suggest that young people used their cash transfer for nefarious purchases, allaying concerns about potential negative impacts.

While our results are limited due to limitations related to small sample size and effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, it shows that such initiatives hold promise to improve the lives of youth.


Research Areas Children and youth Crime, justice, and safety Health and health care Wealth and financial well-being
Tags Gun violence Health outcomes Youth employment and training
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
Research Methods Qualitative data analysis Quantitative data analysis