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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Children and Poverty

I spent most of my career teaching special education students, some of whom lived in poverty. Some of the effects I witnessed first-hand were children that ate food wherever they found it, children who would eat four sandwiches for snack, and children who came to school in light jackets in the winter. I also learned that some families had children who shared beds, or made the kids stay in the house after school because both parents were working. I saw homes without tables for eating, without reading materials, parents who spent money whenever they received it, and homes where these items would be repossessed when payments were not made. I still remember a student who was learning to talk at age 4 and the only word I could understand was “police”. As an educator and parent, I learned that poor diet can lead to poor brain development, which leads to difficulties in school, which leads to dropping out1, which leads to future poverty. As an observer in my brother’s classroom in Chicago for a day, I observed a lack of books, rulers, pencils, record players, and respect for authority. As a traveler in Guatemala’s Monterrico, I observed teachers lecturing to students with no books, some pencils and some paper.

This is one of the subjects that makes me the most angry when people complain about taxes. There is no excuse for this neglect!

From Brooks-Gunn and Duncan:
"What does poverty mean for children? How does the relative lack of income influence children’s day-to-day lives? Is it through inadequate nutrition; fewer learning experiences; instability of residence; lower quality of schools; exposure to environmental toxins, family violence, and homelessness; dangerous streets; or less access to friends, services, and, for adolescents, jobs?"2

According to Oxfam, 20% of the children in the United States experienced food insecurity in 2014, that is, they not receiving enough “to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.”3  In the United States, one in five children is hungry. If that were a disease, it would be considered epidemic! This cannot be allowed to continue, but it will only change if we work for that change.

How can you help? You can donate to Oxfam HERE. You can find your organizations HERE at Charity Navigator. You can organize and fund raise, but the truth is that this is a national and international problem and there needs to be policy change by governments. Children cannot vote, but you can. Write letters - email petitions are ineffective - to all of your representatives letting them know you want this issue addressed at the state, national and international level.

1“The timing of poverty also seems to be important for certain child outcomes. Children who experience poverty during their preschool and early school years have lower rates of school completion than children and adolescents who experience poverty only in later years.”

Jeanne Brooks-Gunn Greg J. Duncan, “The Effects of Poverty on Children,” Cambridge University Press, abstract on page 55.

2 Brooks-Gunn and Duncan p. 57
3, accessed on 27 April 2016, quote is cited from Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2015). Household Food Security in the United States in 2014. USDA ERS.