Despite being one the wealthiest countries in the world, child poverty is a serious and ongoing problem in the United States. Because of this, impoverished children and adults are affected. The effects poverty has on a child’s development and the long-term effects are similar. Both children and adults are damaged emotionally, mentally, and physically when brought up in impoverished environments. They both are susceptible, but not limited to, stress, chronic health issues, and changes within the brain. Children suffer, become adults and pass the same issues to their children and the cycle continues. The United States ranks low compared to other wealthy countries when it comes to child poverty. The difference in wealthy countries with low poverty and the United States is the other countries choose to invest more in families, children, and education. Poverty can be reduced but will continue to get worse until the government decides to make it a priority.
The Effects of Poverty on Child Development
Although other rich nations have lower poverty rates, the United States is creating long-term damage to the development of a child emotionally, mentally, and/or physically, with no signs of becoming better. The United States is failing its children, and as of 2012 ranked sixth from the bottom when compared to the other thirty-four Organization for Economic Co-operation and Developed countries (Sach, 2016). But why would a country that is deemed the wealthiest country in the world be struggling with child poverty? What is the damage and why isn’t the damage on children who are growing up in poverty not being taken seriously? In this paper I discuss the reasons why the United States is failing on the level of other developed countries and the effects poverty has on a child’s development as a child and an adult.
Child Poverty in United States
There have been wealthy developed countries in previous years that struggled with child poverty, but they found ways that worked for them and turned their countries around to reduce the number of children living in poverty. The United States continues to struggle with this issue because they refuse to address it the way in which it will have positive results. Having a steady income is imperative for a family to rise above living in poverty, but it is more imperative and less likely to happen when there are two parents bringing home a steady income. Although this is important it is not the only and always the answer because although there may be two working parents in the household, they may not be bringing home high enough incomes to survive.
“Work alone is not always enough to prevent child poverty.” (Smeeding & Thevenot, 2016, p. S71). In households where there is only one working parent they sometimes struggle with flexible hours to meet the needs they need to provide for their child. Some examples, but not limited to, are helping children with their homework, providing healthy meals, and having their child on a set sleep schedule. The lack of these are all factors that can affect a child’s development. No country is completely alike and what may work for one may not work for the other but one thing that has been shown to help minimize the issue is through government intervention. When the right government programs are put in place, such as income, service, and tax providing programs, they “can contribute to the efforts of those who cannot be supported by work alone while still maintaining incentives for greater work effort.” (Smeeding & Thevenot, 2016, p. S74).
It has been shown through other countries, that by having these programs they do make a positive change in reducing poverty. The United States must be willing to desperately make a change for a change to occur. The United States must make investing in families and children a priority so that everyone has a fair opportunity to live out the “American Dream.” They must understand that cutting back on educational or programs that directly help families in need will only worsen the problem. Compared to other nations, the United States invests the least when it comes to helping children and their families, finding itself with the highest poverty rates and the least upward mobility for poor children (Smeeding & Thevenot, 2016, p. S74).
In the past, two studies have been conducted on the cost of poverty. Although it is not noted as to why the political offices will not act upon lowering poverty, the studies show that doing so could be more cost effective (McLaughlin & Rank, 2018, p. 75). In 2006, a study revealed that the overall annual cost of childhood poverty was approximately $500 billion (McLaughlin & Rank, 2018, p. 75). The United States must be willing to act upon the solutions that are there for things to change and must recognize that it would cost the nation less if they invested in reducing poverty rather than avoiding it.
The Effects of Poverty on Children’s Emotional Health
Growing up in poverty has been shown to cause child development concerns that can affect a child’s emotional, physical, and mental ability. The emotional development of a child is important because it can affect the way a child deals with life, behaves, and the choices they make. Emotional development begins at a very young age for a child and the environment in which the child grows up can have a positive or negative impact on their life. For example, a child that grows up in a home that prevents them from exploring due to the dangers outside or due to the lack of playgrounds could bring stress amongst the child.
A child that is living in a home where the provider is struggling to keep the lights on or feed them may experience fear or sadness. These stressors and emotions can affect the way a child interacts with other children and/or adults. Stress of early poverty stunts children’s emotional development and increases the likelihood of poor academic achievement and dropping out of high school (Edelman, 2016. P. S6). Households that live in poverty are very likely to experience various traumas that can affect the emotional development of a child. Examples of these traumas, but not limited to, could be sexual abuse, household substance abuse, or violence in the home. The more traumas a child is exposed to the higher their chances are to develop poor health in adulthood (Schickedanz, Dreyer, & Halfon, 2015, p. 1114).
When met with trauma, children tend to grow up feeling powerless which in return causes them to have anxiety, nervousness, be bullied, and/or antisocial because their emotions were never fully developed (Wise, 2016, p. S40). Children struggle with communicating and handling negative emotions. Due to the environment they are raised in, children have nowhere to turn or get help because they lack money and resources. Whereas in a community where kids are not being raised in poverty and are surrounded by a more positive environment conditioning their emotions. Everywhere they turn they are surrounded by others that are in the same situation. Struggling to find and outlet, these emotions carryon into their adolescent and adult years.
The Effects of Poverty on Children’s Mental Health
The mental development of a child is important because it affects the child’s ability to do well in school and their future. Mental development in a child’s early years are crucial because this is when the brain grows the most (Johnson, Riis, & Noble, 2016, p. 5). Studies have found that the stress of poverty physically changes a child’s brain (Johnson, Riis, & Noble, 2016, p. 5). Children know at a young age the difference between being poor and not being poor. Knowing these things can affect a child’s mental health because some begin to mentally believe that the things that come with living in poverty. In the article, “Young children’s reasoning about the effects of poverty on people experiencing it”, a study was conducted with 30 children where they used dolls, one poor and one not, to create scenarios (Heberle, Levy, Neuspiel, & Carter, 2018, p. 195).
These scenarios were created to get an understanding on whether the child understood the difference between poor and not poor and if they had an overall understanding of it (Heberle, Levy, Neuspiel, & Carter, 2018, p. 195). They learned that children have a basic understanding about poor and nonpoor (Heberle, Levy, Neuspiel, & Carter, 2018, p. 195). The children expressed needing a job, saving money, or moving to a new country could pull one out of poverty (Heberle, Levy, Neuspiel, & Carter, 2018, p. 195). Some kids also expressed that a child having money correlates with having a lot of things and attending a good school (Heberle, Levy, Neuspiel, & Carter, 2018, p. 195). These early observations can affect a child’s mental state at a young age and if they do not see or have affirmations that their situation could be different one day, they grow up believing poverty is the only option for them, being stuck in the cycle of poverty.
The Effects of Poverty on Children’s Physical Health
The physical effects that poverty has on a child is saddening. Children are born into conditions that are out of their control and because of this children’s brain development is slower than those not growing up in poverty. “Children from low socioeconomic status families are often exposed to fewer words and conversations and less complex and directive speech” (Johnson, Riis, & Noble, 2016, p. 5). For example, many times children are growing up in homes where the parents do not have the knowledge or time to fully help their child with homework and other skills needed to develop their brains. Children struggle because they do not have access to things like books or other learning devices that could also be an aid in brain development (Johnson, Riis, & Noble, 2016, p. 6). Not only are children suffering with proper development of the brain they also are more susceptible to various chronic diseases and death. “The leading cause of chronic disease and mortality amongst children seen in pediatrics everyday are strongly linked to being poor.” (Schickedanz, Dreyer, & Halfon, 2015, p. 1114). Children growing up in poverty are more susceptible to living in homes with lead, smoking, mold, and other unhealthy environmental conditions. This can also cause medical issues within the respiratory. Increased asthma attacks are linked to poverty especially in neighborhoods predominantly poor and nonwhite (Pascoe, Wood, Duffee, & Kuo, 2016, p. e10)
The Effects of Poverty on Adult’s Emotional Health
When a child grows up in poverty, the cycle usually continues into one’s adult life. With that the emotional effects on them never go away. These affects may be different than when they were a child, but they are still present. An adult who grew up in these conditions are more likely to have a hard time understanding their emotions, their children’s emotions, and controlling their emotions (Mccarty, 2016, p. 630). Stress affects people in various ways. An example of an impoverished adult dealing with stress would be how a parent handles parent-child interaction. The parent may scream and yell and have less patience with their child because they are under a lot of stress. Emotionally this is exhausting for the parent. A parent living in poverty is more likely to be less responsive and harsher when it comes to parenting (Evans & Kim, 2012, p. 46). Another example that may affect an adult’s emotional health is having a low wage job that does not put enough food on the table or pay bills or not having the skill set to obtain certain jobs that could help get them out of poverty. Often these impoverished parents are forced to work multiple jobs putting a strain on themselves and their children.
The Effects of Poverty on Adult’s Mental Health
The effects of childhood poverty on a child’s mental health follows them into their adult years. Many adults have the same worries that their parents had raising them. Their worries consist of wondering if they will have enough money to feed their children, heat, and light their homes (Mccarty, 2016, p. 631). They worry about their children being safe and all they want is the best for their children. These parents are usually worn out and tired from working many hours. Their constant worry about their everyday survivor needs can sometimes place them into a depressive state. This in return affects their ability to do well at work and be there for their children emotionally. Stress is at an all-time high. The same strains they experienced as a child has now repeated and been passed on to their children. These parents feel stuck, lack knowledge, and need finances to break the cycle. Even for those that are slightly below the poverty line and could possibly pull themselves out of it, lack financial literacy.
The Effects of Poverty on Adult’s Physical Health
Due to the conditions a child grew up in, they are more likely to be diagnosed with health issues. Some of these health conditions, but not limited to, cardiovascular conditions, hypertension, and obesity (Schickedanz, Dreyer, & Halfon, 2015, p. 1118). Adults who grow up living in poverty are usually malnourished and do not have access to healthy foods because there are less grocery stores built in the neighborhoods that they live in. They also tend to buy more processed and unhealthy foods because these foods generally cost less and are quicker to cook. Due to the dangers and the design of the areas that they lived in, many children did not get proper exercise because they did not live in areas that had yards or areas where they could be physically active. Not only are they not able to be physically active in their community, they lacked proper programs in school. Due to funding, many schools cut extra curriculum physical activities, leaving them without an option. Another condition that affects the physical health of the adults is they are more likely to smoke and live in a highly polluted area. Sadly, these conditions play a role in having a shorter life span.
The answers are there, but without a plan placed in action there will be no results. Adults and children equally face factors that affect their development and affect them emotionally, mentally, and physically. Children and adults are faced with stress and living environments that interfere with the proper development of their brain. Because of these conditions, children are more likely to end up with chronic health conditions that will continue well into adulthood. Poverty will continue hurting children and creating opportunity gaps that can last a lifetime, and hurt the nation’s economy (Edelman, 2016, p. S7). Children and adults will continue to suffer emotionally, mentally, and physically. There is an answer to breaking the chain of poverty in the United States, but this cycle will continue in the United States until the government and political parties are ready to put reducing poverty as a priority.
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