Poverty and its effects and harms communities and entire countries, Children living in poverty experience a wide variety of risk factors, ranging from health concerns to increased difficulties at school, about 15 million children in the United States live in low-income families. Children who directly or indirectly experience risk factors associated with poverty or low parental education have higher than a 90% chance of having 1 or more problems with speech, learning, and/or emotional development.
The correlation between poverty and stress, abuse, and neglect cannot be ignored. Children that experience these traumatic events are more likely to develop a variety of health problems, behavioral issues, or even substance abuse disorders down the road. The negative effects of adverse childhood experiences will only lead to further problems as the child develops from teen to adulthood.
Most are unaware of just how greatly low-income households and poverty can influence child health and, child development. Poverty does indeed impact growth from early childhood, starting with brain development and other body systems. Poverty itself can negatively affect how the body and mind develop, and economic hardship can actually alter the fundamental structure of the child’s brain. Children who directly or indirectly experience risk factors associated with poverty have higher odds of experiencing poor health problems as adults such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, obesity, certain cancers, and even a shorter life expectancy.
About 18 percent of all children are raised in poverty, for most children this will follow them into adulthood. In one 2009 study by the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, researchers found that children who grew up poor were not only more likely to experience poverty as adults, but that the likelihood of being poor in adulthood went up with the number of years spent in poverty as a child. According to the study, around five percent of adults who never experienced poverty as children were poor at ages 20 and 25. If they were poor anywhere from one to seven years as a kid, that number went up to approximately 13 percent. For those who spent eight to 14 years in poverty as children, 46 percent were poor at age 20, and 40 percent were poor at age 25.
Another problem that is seen throughout America is the graduation rate, more than likely a child that has been raised in poverty might not be able to afford graduation expenses or they are likely to drop out to get a job. In a 2017 report from the Urban Institute, researchers found that 62 percent of children who spent at least half their childhoods in poverty went on to attain a high school diploma by age 20. By comparison, that number was 90 percent for those who never experienced poverty. The gaps only widen when it comes to college. A 2015 report from the Urban Institute found that 23 percent of children who spent at least half their childhood in poverty enrolled in postsecondary education by age 25, compared to 70 percent of children who were never poor. While roughly 37 percent of children who were never poor completed college by age 25, only 3 percent of children from persistently poor backgrounds were able to do the same. The study found that poverty played a role, even when race, gender, parent’s education, and other factors were taken into account.
Another long term effect of poverty in childhood is that it can affect your health “Poor families are more likely to reside in homes without functional smoke detectors and with open fires, unprotected windows and unsafe roofs or stairs,” an AAP report from 2016 noted. “Children in poor neighborhoods are at increased risk of cycling accidents, pedestrian injuries, falls, burns, poisonings and chemical burns.” children who grow up in poverty are also more likely to develop chronic illnesses such as asthma or obesity — the latter can lead to further health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. Poor children are also more likely to be sedentary and exposed to tobacco, which in turn may increase the risk of heart and lung problems when they grow up.
All children experience stress, and caring adults or support networks can help them cope and figure out how to respond. However, the constant stresses of living in an impoverished household — and in some cases, dealing with abuse or neglect — can create a toxic stress response. Such levels of stress “impact children’s brain development in the first couple of years of life,” said Dreyer, and can result in permanent changes to brain structure and function. These changes can manifest as increased anxiety, impaired memory and mood control – making it harder to learn, solve problems, follow rules and control impulses. The release of stress hormones can also create a “wear and tear” effect on the child’s organs, including the brain.
How toxic stress effects a child may depend on their innate ability to cope with the stress, and on whether or not they have a support system, Dreyer said. “It doesn’t doom all children, but on the average, it causes a very significant problem in their ability to react to other stress, their ability to behave, to pay attention and to learn cognitively.”
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