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Childhood Poverty

Updated on May 31, 2012
Joaquine Martinez is ten years old. He lives in Capulin Colorado and shares this room and bed with his 11-year-old brother, Eli Jr.
Joaquine Martinez is ten years old. He lives in Capulin Colorado and shares this room and bed with his 11-year-old brother, Eli Jr. | Source
Four year old Jasmine lives in a large Kentucky farm house with her family. In hopes of being a rock star someday, 'Jazzy' is entered into many contests. She is given every chance to go after her dreams.
Four year old Jasmine lives in a large Kentucky farm house with her family. In hopes of being a rock star someday, 'Jazzy' is entered into many contests. She is given every chance to go after her dreams. | Source

The haunting effects of childhood poverty

23% of all America’s children are currently living in poverty. That’s nearly fifteen million kids dealing with issues of food insecurity and homelessness, lacking proper nutrition, health care, and education. Thus, making child poverty not only a human rights issue but also a serious crisis for our future.

Think about it this way, fifteen years from now at least 23% of the new adult population will not have the necessary foundations for success or positive social contribution. In other words, despite their own attempts to escape it, most of these kids will grow up to be a heavy burden for taxpayers to carry.

People who reside in middle class society often struggle to understand just how much is lost on kids who grow up poor, while in reality growing up below the poverty line has serious, long-lasting, consequences.

Who’s Picasso?

Out to a fancy dinner with the Smith family, Veronica feels poised and confident. She has eaten at this top rated sky-rise many times with her own folks and she knows the layout of the menu as well as all the fancy French terms. Before the first course is served, Veronica has spotted her friend’s father, Mr. Smith, as a fellow art buff. As an Art Major, Veronica wants nothing more than to graduate with a job in the art world, a small and difficult industry to break into. Having been to prestigious art schools from a young age, Veronica can spout off the name of any old painting or artist, their most and least famous works, as well as their methods of madness. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are impressed by their daughter’s college friend, so much so that Mr. Smith agrees to hire Veronica, upon her graduation. Veronica has just used her impressive culture capital to secure a job at what she soon discovers is one of the top antique art analysis companies. *

Veronica is not the only young woman out there with a love for art, millions of women and men alike share the same dream, yet they will never be offered the same opportunity, despite the fact their qualifications and abilities may supersede Veronica’s. Veronica was able to use several forms of cultural capital to get where she now stands; first off, her parents were able to afford prestigious art schools and summer camps, she was able to go to college, well-articulated enough to become close with a very wealthy peer, and by simply exercising her culturally-rich past she was able to impress just the right people.

Although America loves the underdog story, the kid with no capital that grows up to be a capitalistic success, we shine light on these tales far more than they actually happen. Without much money, families can’t afford the hundred and thousands of dollars necessary to enroll their children in say, a sporting organization. With uniforms and travel costs, the idea of food on the table becomes obsolete, forcing children without money to go without team sports and art camps. In return, poor kids get a different sort of capital or knowledge. They learn about conserving food, self-defense, coping mechanisms, gang life, and how to work three jobs and still raise kids. None of this is worthless knowledge, but in our world we don’t value this as we do more middle class ideals of cultural capital; such as fine art, table manners, technology skills, advanced degrees, or vocabulary.

High Cost of Health

One in 10 children is without health care coverage today, although policies are in place to secure the health care of over 95% of America’s children, many structural and political barriers still stand in the way. Leaving innocent kids unprotected and at risk for serious health complications without regular checkups. Being poor, the chance of becoming sick increases, especially with chronic illnesses like asthma that require a lot of special medical treatment.

Asthma has been popping up all over poor communities, parents rushing their uninsured children into the ER as they struggle to breath or suffer a persistent cough. Mold and rat feces, persistent in cheap projects housing, are known to cause asthma and keep many children boomeranging in and out of the hospital. This not only detrimental to the well-being of the child and their family but it is extremely costly to our government who foots these hospital bills the family will never be able to pay. The only beneficiary to this social calamity is the landlord who pockets rent money without making the proper and legal adjustments to their dilapidated property. “Slum lords” are able to run rapid in poor neighborhoods, where a lack of social or monetary security prohibits residents from pursuing claims against a landlord they feel powerless beside.

On top of this, a recent study out of South Carolina found over 3,000 low-income children rushed to the ER for asthma attacks had not been given any take-home medication. A future attack is bound to happen and without a home remedy to cease it, the family ends up right back in the ER. Typical treatment for asthma includes a follow-up appointment and a take-home "controller" medication, which almost always keeps kids from returning to the ER; a quick-winded example of how brushing the poor off as unworthy only creates more expensive problems for everyone.

Health problems keep kids out of school; they interfere with grades, motivation, and overall levels of happiness. One low-income child I worked with complained of headaches for weeks, all because her glasses had broke and her family couldn’t afford to replace them until the following month. The constant squinting and blurred vision had my little fourth grader in a dizzy stoup for days, struggling still to learn the vast amount of material being shoveled her way.

Past and present research tells us poor children, when compared with their middle class peers, have higher rates of anxiety. They worry about violence, their future, and their family. Poverty is not friends with health care, making the struggle for parents even harder when their child is sick and they lack any money or power to do something about it.

Teen Pregnancy & Cultural Decision-Making

While the middle class lives in their own cultural mind frame, so do the poor.

When Rosa*, 17, got pregnant she was elated. With a thin silver band on her engagement finger and her stomach bloated with life, she called her boyfriend at his place of work, the local 7’11, to tell him the news. Rosa and her boyfriend live in the second bedroom of her parent’s inner-city apartment, a place where the road noise is obnoxious and the street violence keeps bars on all windows.

Tasha lives twenty minutes down the freeway from Rosa and her parent’s. She lives in a 1,200 square foot guesthouse; a lavish pool separating her living quarters from her parents large brick home. Just months after her high school graduation, Tasha is packing up her things for college. She leaves in only two days but her stomach is twisted into knots, she feels the barf coming and she knows exactly why; she wishes it were nervous butterflies, instead it's a baby. She hasn’t told her boyfriend yet and she doubts she will. Berkley is waiting for him, UCSB is waiting for her and while Tasha is in a far better financial state to take care of a child than Rosa, Rosa’s blessing is Tasha’s worst nightmare.

Tasha will have an abortion, Rosa will not.*

Later, if Rosa and Tasha were to collide, Rosa might be harshly judged for her choice to have the child instead of going off to school, getting a degree. “I couldn’t afford school.” Rosa might say in defense, to which Tasha would argue, "you could if you didn’t have a baby." But what Tasha doesn’t understand is that neither girl is right,instead a different set of rationalizations and cultural guidelines influenced Tasha and Rosa’s pregnancy decision in the first place.

Pregnancy for a young, middle-class girl is most likely nothing short of devastating, what about college? That scholarship? Young girls in poverty feel they have far less to lose. They’ve likely been given a crappy education and no relative examples of success to imitate. Without role models to lead the way, young women in poverty don’t typically see a future with a big time career and a wall framed by degrees. The end of high school signals the end of their educational career, the next step for them naturally seems to be motherhood. When material possessions and conventional routes of success are cut-off, having a child can seem a great way to gain another asset and have something to love. It seems like an improvement to life, not a roadblock to what’s waiting ahead. When one grows up poor options for the future can be bleak at best, and when one believes that nothing awaits them in the future, a pregnancy can seem a way to change that.

Just as young girls see motherhood as an avenue towards maturity and success, young men see gangs as their route for empowerment and respect. Those in poverty are much more likely to join a gang, the reason impoverished communities are often run by gangs. Only gangs are not made up of mean and evil demons, as the sensational news would have us fooled. From a well-researched standpoint, we learn that gangs are actually composed of oppressed and out rightly angry individuals who have been restricted from conventional means of gaining respect since birth. Being in a gang is an act of survival; it’s a way to feel like something when the world constantly tells you that you are nothing. Gangs are a production of poverty, one social problem breed by another.

Elanie S. Percy conducted research on children in poverty; finding most expressed a fear of the violence surrounding them. Although afraid, the kids were well acquainted with the three main gangs run out of their apartment complex, many of the kids were even relatives of gang members. Gangs are normalized at a very early age for the children who grow up in the thick of the battles. One mother who lives in the projects, reports her children sleep on the ground at night so that bullets don’t hit them if they come through the windows.

If young boys and men can resist the pull of the gang, the group that signifies safety and prestige in low-income communities, they are still susceptible to recruiters. While the wealthier members of the US freight over the safety of their children, the poor- whose kids face a higher chance for danger- take risks they’d never wish to. Forced to work odd hours and multiple jobs, their children are often left to the streets to walk without costly supervision or extracurricular activities. Big time drug dealers see these children as the vulnerable commodity they need. The same children in Percy’s study confided in her that these ‘recruiters’ would seek out kids who had holes in their shoes. They’d then offer to buy them new sneakers and then ask for a favor in return. That favor is trafficking drugs, a far less suspicious act when done by a child. These incidents normalize drug trafficking and solidify it as a regular part of life, a way to make money without busting ones ass and being treated like dirt- the conditions of most low-wage employment. It also puts kids at risk for criminal records they can’t even begin to conceptualize but will be judged on for many years, especially in regards to finding future employment.

Ending the Cycle of Poverty

Unarguably, children are the future. Therefore it’s adamant that we not allow them to suffer the fate of their unearned poverty. Many in the upper classes justify their lack of compassion by blaming the poor for reproducing in the first place. This only dehumanizes those in poverty, belittles them to the point of calling them unworthy of the greatest gift on earth: reproduction. This also does nothing to cease the cycle of poverty. By only holding back resources from poor communities, we are insuring that the children born into poverty remain in poverty. We are only exploding our population of dependents while decreasing our productive, educated population. When more people are uneducated, we have a serious problem; we have a society with more dependents than contributors.

If we don’t learn to understand how poverty actually cycles, free of stigmas and biased ideologies, we won’t gain compassion for the victims trapped inside, disallowing real progressive change to occur. Yet, if our high poverty rates continue at their current rate, the future of our American economy is brittle at best.

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    • Becky Bruce profile image
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      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Au fait, I can't thank you enough for opening up about your childhood. Everything you say is so true and if the whole world were as enlightened as you we'd live in a better place. Poor people are blamed way too often but kids don't pick where they are born and being poor only creates more problems... those that get rich don't always realize how many resources they utilized or all of the help they had along the way. No one can go at it alone and yet the poor are basically expected to and then judged if they don't make it out and reach the top. Thanks again :) Look forward to connecting with you in the future on here!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      An interesting hub. A lot of the trouble is people's attitudes. Employer's attitudes. Especially the attitudes of people who don't know the first thing about being poor.

      I was born at home in a house that had no electricity. We had no indoor bathroom or telephone until I was 9. We had a pitcher pump outside the only door until I was 4 when we got cold running water in the kitchen,

      We had a woodstove until I was 9 also, and the fire would to out in the night and have to be rebuilt first thing in the morning. Wisconsin winters can be pretty chilly, and the floors weren't carpeted.

      I grew up on a small family farm in the country. I've picked green beans and cucumbers (cash crops) by hand as a means to afford school clothes. I've had far worse jobs since then.

      Now there are machines that pick those crops, but media likes to portray illegal aliens doing it because they say Americans won't do that job. Well, Americans don't have to do those jobs nor does anyone else because there have been machines doing it since I was 11 years old. That was a while ago.

      Lots of days before our garden was ready we had potatoes and milk for our supper and lucky to have that. Sometimes we had cornmeal mush and like the potatoes and milk, that was the entire meal.

      I know about being poor and not having access to healthcare, but lots of people in this country who are not poor and have never been poor justify doing nothing to help the poor by imagining that poor people are poor because that's what they deserve. They believe everyone gets what they deserve. Funny, because if they looked in the mirror seriously, they would realize they do not deserve anything they have in many cases.

      It's unfortunate that so much talent and skill is wasted in this country because of selfishness, greed, and ignorance.

      Very good hub. Glad you are shining a light on this subject.

    • Rice Girl 2011 profile image

      Rice Girl 2011 5 years ago from Southeastern United States

      I believe you are right about that coffee shop chat! Thank you for the encouraging words. This is one of the many reasons I enjoy hubpages - the opportunity to talk with others about common interests.

    • Becky Bruce profile image
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      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Rice Girl 2011, I bet we could talk for hours on end if we ran into each other at a coffee shop! You seem to be full of wonderful insights and you've hit upon the exact message I try and get across! Children face so much inequality and yet people seem to not realize... continuing to judge people based on their social class when oftentimes social class is predicted at birth. Thanks for sharing the story about growing up with your Grandmother- oftentimes it takes personal experiences- such as your own- for people to fully grasp how where you start out can really dictate a lot of your life chances.

    • Rice Girl 2011 profile image

      Rice Girl 2011 5 years ago from Southeastern United States

      Good Hub Becky. As I am sure you know from your research and your writing, children typically grow up with what they know. I grew up not poor, but working class - my mother and I lived with my grandparents. And after we moved out, we would have been classified as working poor. Most people who do not live it, do not understand it. And when I did my student teaching, I worked with poverty class kids. It is hard to see and there is, as you know, no easy solution. Thank you for writing to open people's eyes. At least after reading your work, no one can say they never knew. I look forward to reading more of your work. Voted up and interesting.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Branch out, Becky. You can do it while you're writing the novel (which I'm looking forward to). People need to hear what you've got to say. Few people say it so well.

    • Becky Bruce profile image
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      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      Insightful points Letitia! There is so much fear and stigma surrounding poverty that people shy away from it instead of understanding it.

      Currently, the only public place I post my articles is here on hubpages! But I am in the process of expanding! I am working on publishing a fiction novel; one that will force readers to rethink the ways we interpret domestic violence within a family (from the perspective of the abused and the abuser). It's fast-paced and full of suspense- so a little different than my typical hub, ha.

    • LetitiaFT profile image

      LetitiaFT 5 years ago from Paris via California

      Keeping the poor poor decreases our productive population, but it also keeps them from competing, and fear falling among them keeps the working middle class from making too many demands.

      Another poignant hub, Becky. Do you write professionally on these issues? You should.

    • Becky Bruce profile image
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      Becky Bruce 5 years ago from San Diego, CA

      maxoxam14, I think Rosa does not biologically lack anything- such as brain cells. She only lacks the examples and opportunities of a middle class lifestyle, aka going to school and being financially stable before having a child. She grew up in a world of instability, that's all a girl like Rosa knows. Of course you're right, her world is larger than her parents example but think about the schools poor kids often go to, the neighbors they have grown up around... it's a world full of people like their parents. That is their home, where they feel comfortable.

      And government intervention... don't even get me started! haha it is just so political.. it misses the whole point sometimes!! Don't you think?

    • maxoxam41 profile image

      Deforest 5 years ago from USA

      I never understood why people in a precarious economical status allow a child in their "family" cell. Why would Rosa conceive the future with a child that would obviously be an obstacle in her progression. She won't even be able to bring him the basics. The world is not limited in the confinement of her perception of her parents' life. Which brain cells does she lack to analyze her own situation and its future impact on a kid's life?

      And where is the government intervention? Governments are elected to take care of people not the other way around! It is governments' duty to insure if not every adult's well-being, but at least every kid's well-being!

    • profile image

      Malindaxo 5 years ago

      so sad to think children have to go through this :( x