Statistics show that 14 to 20 per cent of the U.S. population lives in poverty. Poverty is defined as the inability to provide for minimum survival needs, such as food, shelter and living expenses. It is a growing population within many societies, made up of adults and children alike. This article will explore the impact of this unfortunate situation.
Statistics from The Institute for Social and Economic Research show that children born into a poverty-stricken environment are more likely to have lower birth weights and poorer health. High infant mortality rates are also reported. These children are 15 times more likely to die in a fire, three times more likely to be hit by a car, and 10 times more likely to become teenage mothers. The United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, reports an estimated 26,500 to 30,000 children die each day as a result of poverty.
Sociological studies show the effects of poverty as being passed down from generation to generation. Family values, habits and lifestyles leave little room for growth beyond one's everyday circumstances. A cultural framework in which issues surrounding survival, self-empowerment and the value of time become skewed. A family's outlook is geared towards a "moment-to-moment " approach to living with little, if any sense of the future. The continuing need to provide for food and shelter is the top priority, making other priorities like providing a structured home environment for children, self-autonomy and future planning, seem trivial.
The educational needs of a child raised in poverty tend to be greater than those of the other children. The effects of malnutrition can make it difficult for these children to concentrate and learn. As a result, children may develop behavioural problems out of frustration. Stressful conditions within the home environment tend to be prone towards ineffective communication patterns, which serve to further hamper the child's ability to communicate within the classroom. As far as school supplies, and being able to attend educational activities that take place outside the classroom, these children are equipped with the bare minimum, and oftentimes go without the tools and resources needed to succeed. As children age, the effects of their circumstances become increasingly apparent in the form of delinquency, failing grades and an overall apathy towards education in general.
Theories on the causes and effects of poverty vary according to the time period in question. Sociologists within the early 1900s developed an urban ecological theory for the occurrence of poverty. Poor urban neighbourhoods were viewed as transitional locales for the immigrant groups that entered the country (United States). This perspective defined poverty as a temporary state, and not as a way of life.
A second theory addresses the rapid increase of an "underclass" population between the 1960s and 1980s. Changes in economic structure brought on by a workforce that relocated to the suburbs, left the poorest families to fend for themselves within the inner cities. This, coupled with a decreased demand for low-skilled labour left those of limited means, and education to fend for themselves.
The lack of health care, education and employment opportunities are the areas which most impact the lives of the impoverished. A coordinated effort from government, community organisations and individuals is necessary to reframe the cultural framework in which poverty exists. And while financial resources in the form of jobs, and public assistance is needed, a community mindset must be developed in order for said financial gains to be effective. Counteracting the effects of poverty on the mind is an essential aspect of rising up and out of this oppressive way of life.
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