Today’s Read: The Disease of Poverty

…Poverty in this country is now likely to define many children’s life trajectories in the harshest terms: poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and health problems from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse and mental illness. [New York Times]

These are the harsh, but not altogether shocking words of Dr. Perri Klass in yesterday’s New York Times. Dr. Klass, a pediatrician, describes firsthand what research has continued to show year after year: poverty is severely detrimental to children’s wellbeing. She reports asking her patients about their housing stability and ability to buy groceries and pay for child care. The answers highlight the stresses and complications of living in poverty:

Mother, father, older child and new baby live in one bedroom that they’re renting in an apartment, worrying that if the baby cries too much, they’ll be asked to leave.

I encourage an overweight 9-year-old who loves karate, and his mother says, “We had to stop; too expensive.” I talk to a new mother who is going back to work too soon, leaving her baby with the cheapest sitter she can find.

In more scientific terms, the toxic stress associated with growing up in poverty can actually permanently inhibit children’s brain development, causing lifelong disparities in academic achievement, health, and mental health.

Difficulties in school, poor health, and behavioral problems are realities we see every day with families in our Crisis Intervention Program and kids in our after school and Camp Homeward Bound programs. Moreover, we know that homelessness has even more negative effects on children than just poverty alone. In New York City, family homelessness has reached record levels, with 21,000 children sleeping in shelters each night. This disturbing trend can and must be reversed by making permanent, affordable housing available to homeless families. It is necessary solution for the health and wellbeing of 21,000 children.