Poverty can simply be described as a state where familys income is not enough to meet the federally established basic necessities- adequate shelter, clothing and food (Wood, 2003). Clearly, the family is the first social institution where children learn their personality from. Unfortunately, this is not the case in poverty affected families. According to the family stress model, poverty is a major contributing factor to strained spousal affairs, as it fuels the feelings of stress and depression and this in turn leads to family dysfunction. This emotional distress results to wrangles among the adults and this in turn make effective parenting difficult. In this situation, children experience inadequate surveillance, insufficient control over their behavior, lack of care and support and events of hostility from the parents and even older siblings. This ineffective parenting contributes to children developing negative aspects such as mental illnesses, forming or joining terror gangs, performing poorly in schools and violence. For instance, a study done in 2000 in the US found that children from poor families are 3 times (14.5%) more likely to develop mental disorders when compared to only 5.2% of children from not poor families. Another psychological effect of poverty is that it creates a scarcity mentality. This is where parents tend to only focus on the current issues and neglect the future ones even if they are as well vital for their well-being. All these characteristics form what is referred to as the culture of poverty. This culture can be seen as a result of hopelessness, over dependency and misery (Wood, 2003). This paper addresses the effects of poverty on children and family by incorporating findings from a developed country- the US.
Child and Family Poverty in The United States
The demographics are usually stated in child poverty rate which is the percentage of families whose income is below the federal established poverty line. The United States have the highest child poverty rate when compared to other developed nations, being at 22%. Following in line is Australia and Canada at 14%, Israel and the United Kingdom at 10% then Germany and Italy at 10%. Norway and Belgium are doing quite well with only about 5% child poverty rate (Wood, 2003).
A study done in the US in 2000 using the states set poverty standards found that about 16.2% of people under the age of 18 years were poor. Fortunately, this was an improvement as the rate was at 20.8% in the year 1995. The situation was worse in children <5 years; with 22% being below the poverty line. This statistic can simply be translated to more than one child in every 5 being brought up in an environment deficient of the supportive factors for healthy growth and development. This situation gets even worse when we find that among these poor children, 10% are exceedingly poor and in the age bracket of below six years. When it comes to race, white children lead the line (1.9 million) then non-Hispanics blacks (1.4 million) then the Hispanics at 1.6 million (Wood, 2003).
Socio-demographic factors strongly associated with child poverty are geographical location and parents level of education. For example, the rate is at 7% in New Hampshire as compared to a whopping 30% in Louisiana. Families headed by parents with not as much of high school education have an average poverty rate of 62%, those headed by parents with some college education at 15.2% and the rate goes down to only about 2.8% in families headed by parents with a degree. This gap is simply because parents income is dictated by the level of education (Wood, 2003).
The statistics of child poverty have been so dynamic especially due to the rapidly changing economy characteristics. For instance, in the 1960s, the cost of merely 3 standard family food baskets was set as the poverty line. This simply means that this amount could comfortably pay for adequate basic necessities. This has however changed greatly in the recent years considering the rising cost of transportation, housing, food and also some additional things that have become basic such as child care. Due to the rising standards of living, a whole 77% of the US population use more than 50% of their basic income on housing and 24% are congested. Despite the states efforts on trying to fight poverty, there is still a lot of people not receiving the aid. The aid reaches about only 10% of the needy families. As compared to the 1960s, a family that is currently living on the poverty line has only 60% the purchasing power and is almost two times as poor (Wood, 2003).
The number, chronicity and severity of child poverty has risen in the recent decades despite the efforts of various programs such as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), AFDC (Aid to Families with Needy Children), Medicaid and food stamps (Wood 2003). This can be positively attributed to the fact that many industries are now laying off human labor in favor of upcoming technological innovations such as robots. This translates to many individuals being left without jobs. Also, as mentioned earlier, the standards of living are changing rapidly, cancelling out the minimum wage value.
Factors Behind Child Poverty
The rising rate of child poverty in the US can be attributed to a number of trends: value decrease of poverty alleviation programs, low income among low educated population and the rising numbers of single-parent, mother-headed families.
The US government allocates a given amount of resources to income support programs such as AFDC and TANF. 20% of these resources goes to vulnerable families with 80% going to the elderly. These benefits are however varied across the country. For example, in 1996, a family in Alaska would receive a monthly support of $923 as compared to the that in Mississippi who would receive $120. Unfortunately, inflation has done the worst. As compared to the 1970s, there has been a 51% fall in the real value of the assistance. This implies that the vulnerable families are now twice poor as compared to their 1970s compatriots (Wood, 2003).
About the level of education, individuals with less than 12 years of education have experienced a drastic decrease in their earning ability. It has become hard even to workers with post-high school education to secure an income above the poverty line. The advancement in technology and information has thrown out workers with low levels of education. Also, the unrestricted availability of cheap manual labor from other countries has had a downward effect on local manual labor salaries (Wood, 2003). This has been brought about by various agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Changes in the family structure and other environmental, emotional and social factors that affect families also leads to child poverty. Studies estimate that about one third of the poor children come from mother-headed families. Coupled with the fathers failure to comply with child support requirements, lack of half the wage-getting power leads to most mother-headed households to poverty, irrespective to whether the mother is earning.
Also, there are issues such as drugs and substance abuse, or mental conditions that result to family poverty, worsening the scarcity faced by children. According to a study done recent years, about 20% of female heads enrolled in AFDC or TANF programs were abused in the past one year. This is shocking when compared to a mere 2.5% of their equivalents not enrolled in either of the programs. 28% of female adults with low income are found to have some degree of mental illness due to stress and depression which it two to four times higher than that of the common female population (Wood 2003).
Poverty and Child Health Concentration of Risks
According to David Woods, majority of children born in poor families are usually at risk of the effects of poverty due to the surroundings they are brought up in. approximately, 50% of the poor families reside in poverty concentrated locations such as inner cities. It becomes even harder for a family that is already poor to live in a surrounding that worsens, rather than improving the situation. These communities are usually subject to scarcity or lack of community resources, investment deficiency and also political instability that take the advantage and lead to further separation of the poor families from the mainstream community. These poverty-infested communities usually lack the opportunities through which parents can establish social linkages, resulting to elevated stress and child abuse cases. These environments are also usually associated with crimes and violence, leading to further isolation. Children even lack safe grounds to play and socialize. These kids therefore are less likely to exploit their talents in things like sports or even some after-school events (Wood, 2003). Health, social, economic and other factors are concentrated in these communities leading to aggravated poverty and deficiency that has an adverse effect on the overall well-being of the children.
Effects of Poverty on Childs Cognition and Education
A couple of studies have compared poor children to those with sufficient resources on various aspects of development, cognitive and educational success. The studies are done under strict control of other variables such as family characteristics. IQ test scores tend to vary with poverty, while success in education tend to be associated with poverty in the childs initial years of life and its duration. Poverty in early years has a larger impact on grades attained in school than poverty later in life during actual schooling period (Wood 2003). In inner cities, high school dropout rate is at about 14%, twice as much as that in the suburbs. In colleges, the rate of graduation is almost at 50% of those who transitioned from high school. On IQ scores, children born in poor families are 6 to 13 points behind. Controlled for other variables such as marital status, maternal age, ethnicity and education, there seems to be a dose effect on IQ scores of children when families move from severely poor to moderate poor to not poor. This effect is however believed to be diminished in adolescents (Wood, 2003).
Poverty on Childrens Physical Health
Research shows that poverty can lead to compromised health and chronic ailments in children. Surveys across the country find that poor parents usually rate the health of their children as fair or poor as compared to the parents who are not poor who rate the health of their children as perfect. The prevalence of morbidity and mortality is usually high in children from poor families (Wood, 2003). This is because they have compromised access to curative, preventive and even emergency health care and are mostly affected by malnutrition and poor housing. Another good example of how poverty impacts the health of children is lead exposure. About 5 million of children from poor families are brought up in old homes where lead levels are higher than the accepted maximum level. Not less than 1.5 million of these children experience high blood pressure before the reach the age of 6 years (Wood, 2003).
Pregnancy and Poverty
Outcomes of pregnancy are usually used as predictors of eventual child and also parent health outcomes. Negative pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight are strongly associated with poverty. However, regardless of the social economic status, black women have the likelihood to give birth to low birth children as compared to white women. A study done among white women under strict control of other factors, found that poor white women are 80% more likely of giving birth to a low birth weight child as compared to...
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