years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War on Poverty, and
introduced legislation aiming to reduce the national poverty rate. As
shown in this chart,
in 1964, 23 percent of U.S. children lived in poverty. Since then, the
rate has fluctuated quite a bit, but the latest child poverty rate (22
percent, for 2012) is barely lower than it was when the War began.
Poverty rates for black and Hispanic children (at 39 and 34 percent,
respectively) are even higher. Below, we highlight five ways poverty is
harmful to children, and why it's imperative to continue this fight.
Poverty harms the brain and other body systems.
developmental science understands child poverty has changed a great
deal in recent years. Poverty, for children, is not simply a matter of
getting by with less of the essentials of life. Particularly at its extremes, poverty can negatively affect
how the body and mind develop, and can actually alter the fundamental
architecture of the brain. Children who experience poverty have an
increased likelihood, extending into adulthood, for numerous chronic illnesses, and for a shortened life expectancy.
Poverty creates and widens achievement gaps.
Children growing up in poverty, when compared with their economically more secure peers, fall behind early. Starting in infancy,
gaps are evident in key aspects of learning, knowledge, and
social-emotional development. When left unaddressed, these early gaps
become progressively wider. Early optimal development tends to open
doors to further optimal development, while impoverished development tends to close those doors. So, poor children lag behind their peers at entry to kindergarten, in reading ability at the end of third grade, in the important self-monitoring skills often called "executive functioning," and in school attendance in eighth grade. Poor children are more likely to drop out of school, or fail to obtain post- secondary education.
Poverty leads to poor physical, emotional, and behavioral health.
Poor children are more likely to live in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty, which is associated with numerous social ills.
direct causal links between neighborhood poverty and children's
outcomes are challenging to identify in research, scholars have found
that growing up in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty is associated with negative academic outcomes, more social and behavioral problems, and poorer health and physical fitness outcomes. Poor children are more likely
to live in neighborhoods where they are exposed to environmental toxins
and other physical hazards, including crime and violence. In the case
of violence, even indirect exposure --
witnessing, or simply hearing of its occurrence -- has been linked with
adverse developmental outcomes. Poor children are also
disproportionately likely to attend schools
in districts with fewer resources, with facilities that are grossly
inadequate, and with school leadership that is more transient.
Poverty can harm children through the negative effects it has on their families and the home environment.
While the strengths of poor families are
often overlooked, parents experience numerous challenges that can
affect their own emotional well-being, as well as their children's. Poor parents report higher stress, aggravation, and depressive symptomsthan
do higher-income parents. Parents with scarce economic resources face
difficulty planning, preparing, and providing for their families'
material needs. Children in poor families have fewer books and other
educational resources at home, and they are less likely to experience
family outings, activities, and programs that can enrich learning opportunities. Their families are more likely to experience housing instability. Direct evidence that additional income can improve children's lives comes from several experimental evaluations: programs that increased family income showed improvements in children's social and academic outcomes.