Poverty is defined in many ways. The dictionary definition simply does not suffice to show the human cost of poverty. Poverty is much more than the limited capital resources that this definition suggests. Poverty is defined by the federal government as 16, 660 for a family of four in 1998 ("Child Poverty in the United States" 2000). These figures are tremendously flawed; a single individual residing in the United States would not fare well by the standards of most individuals at this income level. Individuals in Laos, Cuba, Ecuador, or many other nations however, would live as kings on this income.
Poverty is, therefore a subjective concept far more complicated than a yearly income. The individual most harshly affected by poverty are those who are the most powerless to do anything about it -- children. Research indicates that extreme poverty in the first five years of life alters a child's chances in life compared to lesser degrees of poverty in later life. This is the result of several key factors. The first problem associated with poverty is poor nutrition. It has been proven that poor nutrition leads to lower intelligence, poor physical development, and diminished immunity to disease.
"Children deprived of proper nutrition during the brain's most formative years score much lower on tests of vocabulary, reading comprehension, arithmetic, and general knowledge. The more severe the poverty a child faces, the lower his or her nutritional level is likely to be (Brown and Pollitt 38-43)." Government assistance to poor families such as WIC help; however, the guidelines for eligibility fall woefully short of making sure that every child has adequate nutrition. As stated previously, the federal guidelines for poverty are ludicrous when applied to real world economics. To further complicate matters, guidelines used by agencies such as the United States Department of Health and Human Services serve to painfully remind the poor that they are a nuisance to be eliminated. A child that goes to school hungry, even if not malnourished, will have greater difficulty focusing their efforts than a well fed one. An individual who is hungry will eventually become hypoglycemic, a condition in which blood sugar levels fall.
The symptoms of hypoglycemia range from fatigue, sleepiness, irritability, headache, and decreased mental alertness. Many children that are perceived as having behaviour problems may actually have a nutrition problem. All of this is assuming that one is fortunate enough to live in an industrialized nation. Children in poor countries do not attend school unless they are the sire of wealthy parents, thus sealing their fate as impoverished individuals. In many countries no child labor laws exist and therefore a child is seen as a productive worker. Often these children work as many hours as an adult.
In all fairness the harshness of life in many countries dictates that having one's children educated is a luxury they can not afford even if state funded schools exist. The family contribution theory extends even to the children. The first image of poverty that enters most people's minds is that of a third world nation, children of industrialized nation's are not immune. "The United States' child poverty rate is substantially higher- often two-to-three times higher- than that of any other major western industrialized nation (Child Poverty in the United States" 2000)." Canada has it's share of problems as well. "Canada has the second highest child poverty rate when compared against 17 other industrialized nations around the world, second only to the United States ("What We Know" 1997)." Poverty often results in a less healthy population than would be otherwise expected. The reasons for this are varied.
An economically limited individual will tend to live in more cramped conditions than his wealthy counterpart. Doctors are averse to providing free or low cost health care. When poor nutrition is combined with cramped quarters and infrequent visitation to health care professionals disease is the result. "Childhood immunizations are one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions of the twentieth century.
They have drastically reduced or eliminated the burden of many illnesses (Children's Defense Fund 36). " Not if you live in a third world nation though. Children, who are by nature less resistant to disease, do not fare as well as adults. "A child born in the year 2000 is far more likely to grow up healthy, and to reach adulthood than a child born in 1900.
Over the past 100 years, our nation's scientific, technological, and financial resources have built the most advanced health care system in the world. But the doors of the health care system are not open to everyone: the United States remains the only developed nation without a national health care system (Children's Defense Fund 26)."In the United States, some groups, such as Native Americans, rural African Americans, and the inner city poor, have extremely poor health, more characteristic of a poor developing nation than a rich industrialized one (Murray 2000)." As bad as the United States may be when compared to other industrialized nations the picture becomes extremely grim when the data for the ten worst nations is analyzed. For example, in Sierra Leone typical life expectancy is a scant 25. 9 years. All of the bottom 10 countries were in sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV-AIDS epidemic is rampant.
In ascending order beginning with 191, those countries were Sierra Leona [sic], Niger, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Mali, and Ethiopia (Murray 2000). Infant mortality rates soar in high poverty areas. The United States still trails other industrialized nations in infant mortality. It ranks 22 nd, and has failed to reduce the disparities in rates among different racial and ethnic groups (Children's Defense Fund 34). Many of these figures are reflective of infants born to mothers who are scarcely more than children themselves.
"Every year, almost a million teens become pregnant, one out of every ten sexually active teens between the ages of 15 and 19. Although seven out of ten teen mothers complete high school, they are less likely to go to college than other young women, and eighty three percent of the teens who give birth are from low income families (Children's Defense Fund 34)." A child reared in hardship and poverty is himself a cause for more poverty. Resentment aimed at an unwanted child cripples any desire to become productive; rather, it motivates bitterness and an attitude of being owed something. These children are often not provided the emotional support required for healthy development due to the fact that Mom works so long and hard to provide the essentials that nothing else is left. Often in poverty stricken areas the number of single parent households is very high.
Poverty and violence seem to be inextricably bound. Domestic violence accounts for more law enforcement officers being killed in the line of duty than any other type of call. The most dangerous situation that an officer can encounter is a heated argument perceived to be none of his business. The level of apathy on the part of law enforcement is evident in our material culture: "Last night I heard the screaming, loud voices behind the wall.
Another sleepless night for me it won't do no good to call the police. Always come late if they come at all... Last night I heard the screaming, then a silence that chilled my soul. I prayed that I was dreaming when I saw the ambulance in the road (Chapman 1988)." When substance abuse is included in the picture the estimated increase in family violence is over three times. "Parental substance abuse continues to be one of the top two problems facing families reported for child maltreatment, according to a 1998 study by Prevent Child Abuse America. Children whose parents abuse drugs and alcohol are almost three times more likely to be abused and more than four times as likely to be neglected...
Almost 85 percent of child abuse cases involve families who are also suffering from other forms of family violence (Children's Defense Fund 84-86)." Prison populations swell with the products of these families. A child who watches his father pound on his mother on a daily basis will emulate this activity years later. The cost of this kind of abuse is staggering. "There are many children who, although not physically abused themselves, witness violence and may need help coping with its impact. It is estimated that 3. 3 to 10 million children witness violence against their mothers each year.
Many of these children suffer emotional scars, sometimes lifelong scars. The public and even many professionals in the field fail to understand the impact on children and a family's safety, and the need to get help for them and often for their mothers. Children who witness such violence commonly experience low self-esteem, withdrawal, self blame. And aggression against peers and family members. Domestic violence is particularly damaging to children because it is so intense, often chronic, and occurs over a long period of time. Because it happens to those closest to the child, it leaves the child feeling alone with no one to turn to for safety or relief.
Such violence teaches children damaging lessons, which are difficult to undo, about the use of violence in personal relationships (Children's Defense Fund 86)." Many people might ask, "What does this have to do with me? I am not living in poverty." The truth is, everyone is affected by poverty. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, "There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society, with a large segment of people in that society, who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that they have nothing to lose. People who have a stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don't have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it (1963)." More yet might ask, "how can we be expected to solve a problem that is so big?"Reducing child poverty is one of the smartest investments that Americans can make their nation's future. Fewer children in poverty will mean: (1) more children entering school ready to learn, (2) more successful schools and fewer school dropouts, (3) better child health and less strain on hospitals and public health systems, (4) less stress on the juvenile justice system, (5) less child hunger and malnutrition, and other important advances. Americans can create uniquely American solutions to the problem of child Poverty.
The following are some potential steps to invest in families and to keep their children out of poverty. Most poor children have at least one employed parent. Private sector employers and government at the federal, state, and local level can all help to make work pay for families with children. Both the public and private sectors have a role to play in increasing family incomes though non-poverty wages, and expanded earned income tax credit, and providing access to affordable quality child care, health insurance, and transportation to and from work. 2. Expand cost-effective prevention programs.
Examples: (a) provide nutritious food for pregnant women and young children though WIC (The Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children), and (b) improve poor preschoolers' future life chances by providing them with affordable quality early childhood education and child care and family support programs. 3. Teen pregnancy prevention programs such as the Teen Outreach Program have also proven to be effective. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy draws upon proven prevention principles to move beyond programs to develop truly effective teen pregnancy prevention policies ("Child Poverty in the United States" 2000)." Many people choose to ask how this problem can be solved. I prefer to ask why the problem exists in the first place.
I think it has been summed up well by Langston Hughes, a man who did not waste words: Hungry child, I did not make this world for you. You did not buy stock in my railroad. You did not invest in my corporation. Where are your shares of Standard Oil? I made this world for the rich, and the will-be-rich, and the have-always-been-rich Not for you, hungry child." QED Brown, L. & Pollitt, E. "Malnutrition, poverty and intellectual development." Scientific American vol 274 (2), pp.
38-43. Chapman, Tracy. "Behind the Wall." Lyrics Tracy Chapman Elektra/Asylum records, 1988"Child Poverty in the United States." Child Poverty Factsheet. July 2000. National Center for Children in Poverty, The Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.
18 April 2001 < web >. Children's Defense Fund. The State of America's Children Yearbook 2000. Washington: Children's Defense Fund, 2000." What We Know." Children and Poverty. May 1997.
Canadian Child Care Federation. 23 April 2001 < web >. Murray, Christopher M. D. "WHO Issues New Healthy Life Expectancy Rankings." 4 June 2000. 25 April 2001 < web >.
King, Martin Luther Jr. "Letter From Birmingham Jail." April 1963.