Poverty and Children in the United States
Poverty can be defined as the lack of basic needs including nutrition, clean drinking water, education, healthcare and clothing as well as shelter. Poor people are unable to afford these basic needs, and this is known as destitution or absolute poverty. The state of not being able to afford or having lesser income and resources than other people in a nation or society or in comparison to worldwide standardized averages is known as relative poverty. Historically, poverty reduction has been made possible through economic growth.
Increased production within flourishing economies fostered by modernized industrial technologies has created more wealth, thus making available and cheap goods that were unaffordable by many in earlier years. Despite economic successes and technological advancements the United States has been unable to totally eliminate poverty amongst the populace. President Lyndon declared war against domestic poverty in 1964. In response the federal government has been channeling billions of money to all towns across America providing aid in through programs such as the welfare programs. This aid has facilitated basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing. Nevertheless, the war on poverty has not been won yet.
A Fordham University generated research report of 1996 indicated that many more millions of Americans lived in poverty in 1996 than they were in 1964. The report also stated that America’s social well being had declined to its lowest point ever in a quarter of a century, and this had mostly affected young people and children. In present day America recession effects still remain with over 14 million children living in poverty-this large number translates to about 19% percent of the nations children. This is a grim picture, keeping in mind that the future of any nation depends on how the nation handles its young population.
The high rate of unemployment that is ever rising is cited as the main factor that greatly contributes to child poverty. However, it has also been noted that most of the poor children in America hail from families with working parent/s. The parents in this case work in low paying jobs, and as a result there earnings are unable to sustain their families and raise the standards of living above the poverty level designated by the federal government. Notably, poverty is high in other demographic groups compared to others. The percentages of children living under poverty in America are as follows, 37% percent (Native American children), 30.7% (Hispanic American children), 34.7% (black American children), 14.6% (Asian American children) and 10.6% (white children).
An analysis of this figures indicate that racial injustices and discrimination is also a contributory factor towards poverty. In the U.S.A the rising income segregation adds to the injustices that are brought about by racial segregation. According to a research by the Coalition on Human Needs the population of households that lack nutritious supplies of food increased from 36 million to 49 million. This is the highest recorded number, and amongst these people were seventeen million children, this is was four million more in 2008 compared to 2007 (Maume & Arrigi, (2007).
Children living in poverty often go hungry and are unable to access primary health care. These children are also isolated in lack of transportation, lack of proper child care, segregated patterns of housing and by segregation that lands them in under-funded and stressed public schools. These children also live in segregated neighborhoods characterized with poverty and frequent cases of violence, drug abuse, prostitution and other social and criminal vices. As a result, of these environmental factors children are negatively influenced, and thus drop out of school. Finally, these children engage crimes that land them in jail serving long terms of incarceration instead of being in college. Experts believe that American children in poor families today may have little to no opportunity to break out of poverty in comparison to earlier generations (Maume & Arrigi, (2007).
Impact of poverty on American children
The American Census Bureau report release in 1996 indicated that 13.8% of American citizens live in poverty, whereas; many more are at the brink of the poverty line. The effects of poverty hit people of all ages, but 48% percent of these victims are young people and children. It is estimated that one out of every four American children live below the poverty line set by the government-this is approximately 15 million children. It is also estimated that 25% of children under 12 years and 22% percent of those under 18 years are either hungry or at the brink of falling into hunger. Additionally, 2660 births occur daily in poor families, 27 of these children die because of poverty.
This situation has persisted over several years causing the U.S to denoted as the country with the highest child poverty rate amongst the 17 most wealthy countries. There are numerous long term effects of poverty on children. These effects may range from depression and aggression to stunted growth or low height in comparison to age. In addition, there are severe economic costs that result from child poverty. The Children’s defense fund declares that every year spent in poverty by a child causes a loss in future productivity that could amount to $11800 (Collins et al, 2009).
Poor health is the first impact of poverty that arises from lacking proper nutrition and balanced diet. The National Center for Health Statistics states that children born in poor families are 3.6 times more likely to have bad health and die of infectious diseases. It was noted in 2002 that 14% of children lived under poverty and 7.7% of babies born into poverty were under-weight. According to the findings of the National Health and Nutrition body the mean levels of lead in blood was found to be 9% lower for children born in families with incomes doubling the mean poverty level income compared to those born into poor families. Data from the federal health program also indicated that 8%-12% of poor children enrolled in its programs had elevated levels of blood lead.
Lead poisoning was observed to be rampant in children born in poor families because of the poor living conditions that they are exposed to (Oberg, 2003). It was also observed that 34% percent of children from poor households had obesity compared to children from families with high incomes who had19% percent of their children being obese. This high prevalence of overweight children also causes other multiple health problems. It was also observed that poor children are more likely to get asthma compared children from families that are not poor. In 2002 it was observed that 8% of poor children had asthma compared to only 6% for the non-poor children. Children born in poor living conditions of poverty have a high risk of being born under weight or getting diseases such as anemia, asthma, stunted growth as well as other complications such as lead poisoning. Low birth weight has also been cited a risk factor in infant mortality.
Children born under weight are more likely to get catch diseases compared with those born with proper weight. They also develop problems such as learning disabilities, physical disabilities and grade repetition. Low birth weight has been noted as rampant feature amongst babies born to single mothers, especially those that are uneducated. This has commonly been observed amongst Black Americans- a group that has high prevalence of poverty. Stunted growth which is high amongst poor people may lead to poor cognitive development, which later may lead to poor learning abilities. The poor living conditions also expose the poor children to lead poisoning because the houses that they live in are often sub-standard. The poisoning later causes more complications in their health resulting to low IQs, behavioral problems, hearing and speech problems-all these resultant complications may be almost irreversible(Oberg, 2003).
Poverty has been found to cause profound effects on children’s cognitive development. The lack of proper cognitive development slows down the child’s learning abilities due to developmental delays. The Brandeis University’s Center of Hunger and poverty malnutrition coupled with poor environmental surroundings of upbringing may retard brain development, cognitive functioning and physical growth on a permanent basis. Lack of enough food and a balanced diet may result in low attentiveness, alertness, motivation and emotional expression, all of which negatively influence development processes. This could affect learning, playing, communication and parent-child bond. When these poor children fail to attach or bond well with their parents they also develop low self confidence needed in the formation of new relationships. As a result, the children will have a low sense of efficacy, and therefore they will feel less important and worthless-both of which create a low self esteem, depression and anger (Feeny & Clarke, 2007).
Education is also another sector and part of the children’s life that is greatly affected by poverty. School un-readiness or the number of children that are no prepared for schooling before entry into primary schooling is also very high in poor children. This un-readiness has far reaching effects that may affect the poor children way beyond kindergarten. Children from poor families have been known to join kindergarten later than their peers. It has also been established that 50% percent of these children are unable to attain reading proficiency by the time they reach fourth grade.
Schools that had 50% percent of their students enrolled into reduced price or free lunch were noted to have lower average scores compared to schools which had at least a quarter of lower enrollment of students in to these programs meant to assist poor students. This is a clear indication that poverty leads to poor academic performance. This may be attributed to poor cognitive development that results from hunger and poor health caused by poverty. Additionally, the poor social development and lack of concentration due to depression and hunger impedes learning (Oberg, 2003). Studies on school drop out rates indicate that children living in poverty are more likely to drop out of school before completion compared to their counterparts from well off families. The inability to complete their studies means that the poverty cycle continues and chances are high for these children to end up poor.
Child poverty is also the main reason behind child prostitution, drug abuse, violent crimes and many other vices that occur within the society. The children in poor families are compelled to engage in illegal and dangerous acts due to the poor conditions that they live in. Additionally, negative influence on morals is rampant in impoverished neighborhoods. These poor children grow up witnessing violence, crime, drug abuse, prostitution among many other evils. These experiences cause the children to develop morals and behaviors that are characterized with their experiences.
Children from poor neighborhoods are more likely to engage in activities such as child prostitution, drug dealing, substance abuse and violent crimes.As a result most of them end up in jails or rehabilitation centers. Children raised in poor neighborhoods are more likey to engage in crime compared to their counterparts from well to do families.Children brought up in poverty also also develop behavior changes characterised by depression and lack of proper cognitive abilities. These children are mostly influenced by the depresive nature of their parents. Most poor mothers experience occasional domestic violence that is experienced by the children. The teahers may also aggravate the problem by neglecting such children or by failing to accord them the necessary attention that they require.
Teenage pregnancies is also a big problem in the U.S. Statistics indicate that 25 out of 1000 teenagers aged between 15 to 17 have had child births, most of whom never get to finish their high school studies. Itis also highly likely that they may never get a chance to get to college. This simply implies that they are likely to live a life of poverty in their future. The cycle of poverty is also llikely to continue because the parents will be unable to provide for their children. It has also been proved through empirical surveys that the probability of teenage pregnancies reduces significantly in well to do families whereas it increases as the income levels in families drop (Collins et al, 2009).
Despite great advancements and development within the America, povrty is still rampant and those that suffer under it are the young children that are born into these poor families. Povertyu robs them off their future and places tham at a risk of having a poor future that propagates the vicious cycle of poverty in their families. Most factors that shape early childhood are not provided as required so as to shape cgildrenm well. These factors include, nutrition and health, a good environment, and good parent-child interactions. All these are not properly provided for under conditions of poverty.
As a result, childtren grow under difficult conditions that hinder proper growth and reduce their future productivity as well active performamnce in academic circles-which very important in shaping their future. The government has moved in to reform the situation but all it has done is to provide for minimum bare survival. In personal view the government should do more funding to help alleviate poverty especially, for the sake of children that bear the future of our nation. More funds should be set aside especially, in the provison of education and better nutrition and healthcare for children living underconditions of poverty.
Oberg, C. (2003). The Impact of Childhood Poverty on Health and Development. Healthy Generations Journal, volume 4, issue number 1.
Collins et. Al (2009) Children in Poverty: Trends, consequences and policy options. Trends Cild Research Brief. Retrieved on 1st September, 2010 from www.childtrends.org.
Maume, J.D. and Arrighe, A. B.(2007). Child Poverty in America Today: Children and the state. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Feeny, S. And Clarke,M. (2007). Education for the end of poverty: implementing all the Millennium Development Goals. Nova Publishers.