Originally published by The Madison Times on October 23, 2015 http://themadisontimes.themadent.com/article/the-war-on-childhood-poverty/
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, childhood poverty is a significant determinant of health. It affects not only physical and developmental health but educational achievement, emotional well being and health into adulthood. Poverty is defined as a family income of $24,000 or less per year for a family of four. Kids that live in poverty are at higher risks for teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, high school dropout, criminal behavior, and exposure to “toxic stress,” which can have lasting physiologic and emotional effects into adulthood.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 22% of all children in the U.S. are living in poverty. Most of these children have families who work, but due to low wages and unstable employment the families struggle to make ends meet. Research shows that families need on average twice the amount (46K) of the current federal poverty level ($24,000) to cover basic expenses. But unfortunately, there are many who do not.
Other pertinent facts related to this issue are below:
• The percentage of children living in low income families is on the rise.
• The percentage of children in low income families varies by race/ethnicity: 31% white children, 65% black children, 63% Hispanic children, 31% Asian children, 63% of American Indian Children
• Low levels of parental education are primary risk factors for being low income
• Single parent families are at greater risk of economic hardship than two parent families
• Poverty not only affects physical and emotional health of children, but it affects their ability to learn. Some studies have even suggested that kids who experience poverty at a young age can have alterations in their brain structure later in life!
Overall, this is a public health issue that cannot be ignored. As a pediatrician, this information is striking. There is no single prescription I can write that can solve this. There are so many social determinants of health that extend far beyond the clinic walls! That is why I am so passionate about bringing awareness to issues like this. We need to collectively come together as a community to advocate for policies and practices that will work to eliminate the toxic and lasting effects of childhood poverty. Seven focus areas that are crucial to addressing poverty and its lasting effects on children are: ensuring food security, increasing access to health care, building community, strengthening families, increasing access to higher education, strengthening early education, and building resilience. There is already a lot of amazing work going on in these areas, but we must continue to move forward. Our children are depending on us!