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Two Articles Draw One Conclusion: Being Born Poor is a HUGE Obstacle

September 30, 2015

Over the past month I’ve read several articles describing the deep hole those born into poverty must dig out of in order to improve there economic standing… and increasingly African Americans are experiencing far more poverty than their white counterparts.

In early September Bloomberg Business published a short article by Victoria Stilwell titled “Here’s How Growing Up in Poverty Hurts American Adults” that offered three factors that described three “…things that tend to happen to Americans who grow up poor“:

  1. They have a harder time finishing high school or college
  2. They struggle to keep jobs as young adults
  3. They have higher rates of teen pregnancy

All three of these factors lead to poverty in adulthood… and citing research from the Urban Institute, the article notes that while 15% of children are in poverty during any one year,

Some 39 percent of children are poor for at least one year before they reach their 18th birthday, according to Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow and economist at Urban. For black children, that statistic is 75 percent, compared with 30 percent of whites.

Michelle Chen, a staff writer for The Nation, wrote an equally gloomy assessment of the effects of poverty in an article that appeared earlier this week titled “In America, the Poorer You Are the Poorer Your Children Will Be”. Drawing on information from a new book “Too Many Children Left Behind,” by Bruce Bradbury, Miles Corak, Jane Waldfogel, and Elizabeth Washbrook, Chen describes how 

…poor children in the US are “doubly disadvantaged relative to their peers in the other three countries (the UK, Australia, and Canada)” because the government’s “social safety net and supports for working families do the least among the four countries to combat inequality”—particularly our national lack of guaranteed paid time off and vacation.

Compounding the lack of a safety net is the increase in expenditures on “enrichment activities” by affluent parents, which is having the effect of widening the gap between rich and poor kids in our country. Looking at this situation, Chen writes:

So poor parents struggling just to cover basic food and shelter face both massive income inequality in their day-to-day lives, plus a seven-fold gap in the amount they can “invest” to help their children thrive in the futureGiven that social mobility is already suppressed at all income levels—with children’s future earnings highly correlated with the earnings of their parents—the Herculean amount of “catch up” poor parents must undertake just to get on the same footing as their higher-earning peers makes the great American wealth gap seem even more devastating, for both today’s working households and generations to come.

The solutions to this situation are familiar to readers of this blog and any writings on social justice: better pay, more flexibility in the workplace, universal prekindergarten, access to quality daycare… in short providing the children of low wage workers with the same baseline of services and education that the children raised in affluence receive.

We could make this happen if we lent a helping hand to those children raised in poverty… but to do so would require helping their parents and that seems less and less likely in today’s world of social Darwinism.

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