Poverty is the single largest threat to any child’s well-being, and in the United States alone, one in every seven children lives in poverty. Dependent upon parents, caregivers and a system that are, at times, remarkably ill-equipped to deal with their very real needs, children in America can suffer greatly and unnecessarily.
From its negative effect on health to the strains it places on family units and a young person’s ability to learn, poverty—no matter where it occurs—is detrimental to childhood development.
Many non-profits and outreach organizations work to gather donations and offer services to help the children affected most by poverty in one of the world’s richest nations, but systemic needs remain. From food insecurity to issues of health and safety, here are five of the most pressing needs facing poor kids in America.
1. Food Insecurity
One in six Americans currently lives in a household where food is what’s known as “insecure,” meaning that over the course of any given month, they will run out of money or food or be forced to miss meals or seek out help to feed themselves and their families. More than 50 million people in the United States were food insecure last year, and of those 50 million, 17 million were children.
One program that many of America’s poor rely on for basic food needs is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A polarizing assistance plan within American politics, almost $80 billion is allocated to it annually. As wages and jobs continue to stagnate, it seems that regardless of the contentious debate that surrounds it, its necessity continues.
2. Stable Housing
Many people find it hard to believe that many U.S. children are homeless, but the reality is that upwards of 1.6 million children have to sleep at night without a place to call home. Homelessness contributes to a lack of safety, comfort, self-worth, privacy, routine, reliable and adequate healthcare, consistent schooling, meaningful and sustainable relationships and a sense of belonging to a community. Without these things, many homeless children suffer lasting harm that can affect them their whole lives, even long after their homelessness is over.
A child’s sense of her own well-being is closely linked to whether or not she feels safe. When children’s safety, or their sense of safety, is compromised, they suffer a wide variety of outcomes from stunted cognitive development to poor school performance, as well as reduced skills,output and earnings.
Poverty negatively affects children’s health in a broad spectrum that encompasses the physical, emotional, social, spiritual and mental aspects of being human. The effects of these early health problems often stretch on into a child’s later years, regardless of how that child fares financially as an adult. Because poverty can have such pernicious and lasting negative effects, addressing it in an effective and broad manner will make for healthier people across all of their lives and in every community.
5. Better-Paying Jobs for Caregivers
Full-time jobs continue to be difficult to find for many of the country’s lowest skilled workers, and wage stagnation has been en vogue—except for some notable periods of exception due to the tech boom and housing bubble—since the 1980s.
While the top 10 percent of earners took home more than half of the nation’s total income in 2012, 2009 to 2012 saw the top 1 percent’s incomes increase by over 31 percent, while the bottom 99 percent saw theirs—as a whole—grow by only .4 percent; it’s no wonder that the poorest families in the country are finding it hard to make ends meet.
If wages don’t rise, it’s hard to see how the poor and their children will rise above the deleterious effects that poverty is currently working in them.
Poverty impacts children in far-reaching ways, and the consequences can last their whole lives. From food insecurity and housing concerns to poverty’s effects on learning and health, not attending to the needs of America’s poor unfairly affects the children in those families, and it will continue to do so until the systemic problems surrounding poverty are addressed.
About the Author: Erma Lane is a contributing blogger and social worker.