The effects of child poverty

Written by susan ruckdeschel
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The effects of child poverty
Childhood poverty affects children emotionally, physically and intellectually. (poverty graffiti image by michele goglio from

Poverty has ravaging effects throughout the lifespan of a child. A child growing up in poverty has a life expectancy seven years less than one who does not. Often born with lower birth weight, the longer a child lives in poverty, the worse these effects become. According to the Brookings Institute and the National Census Bureau, more than 36 million people receive food stamps each year in the U.S., with children receiving the largest share, and more than 13 million children under 18 live below the poverty line. The long-term effects of childhood poverty are far-reaching.

Life Expectancy

Due to low birth weight, poor nutrition and other results of poverty and access to food, children raised poor have a much lower life expectancy. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, they are over 3 1/2 times more likely to have health conditions such as asthma, allergies, low immunity and a much higher chance of dying from an infectious disease. In addition, these damaging effects can be passed on genetically, creating generations of unhealthy families with early death rates.

Obesity and Wellness

Obesity rates are also higher among children raised in homes with lower household incomes. According to the National Center on Health Statistics, as many as 34 per cent of children raised in poverty are obese, compared to 19 per cent raised in homes with higher incomes. The federal WIC program -- Women, Infants and Children -- continues to report high numbers of obesity among the children it serves. In addition, children from poor households report more asthma than children from higher income households. Vaccination rates are also lower for poor children.

School Performance

Exposure to lead, which is more prevalent among poor children, can lead to cognitive and developmental impairment. Children growing up in housing projects or other substandard housing are more likely to be exposed to lead. Lead exposure can result in learning disabilities, speech, hearing and language impairment, lower IQs and even behaviour problems. National statistics indicate that children who live in poverty are almost 1/ 1/2 times more likely to develop a learning disability as a result of growing up poor, compared to non-poor students. Educational gains in math and reading among children raised in poverty are lower between kindergarten and the third grade, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


The Center on Hunger and Poverty out of Brandeis University claims that poverty's profound effect can result in permanent physical, emotional and cognitive impairment in children, which can lead to behavioural problems. National statistics indicate that low-income parents are twice as likely to be depressed, with negative effects on their children. Research conducted by the Connecticut Commission on Children concluded that children under 6 years old whose parents are depressed or who are exposed to domestic violence or substance abuse are two to five times more likely to become homeless or to be placed in foster care. Children from low-income homes have more emotional and behavioural problems than non-poor children as a result.

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