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Poverty and Education


Whenever I talk about poverty, my more progressive friends get annoyed because I think it is very difficult for children in poverty to be successful in schools and my more progressive friends think that we can educate every child, no matter how poor, to a high standard.





Let's look at poverty. The official poverty definition by the Census Bureau is family money income before taxes and does not include capital gains or noncash benefits (such as public housing, Medicaid, and food stamps)." The Census Bureau chooses poverty thresholds which are the dollar amounts that determine poverty status.  In 2017, the poverty thresholds ranged from $11,756 for one senior person age 65 and older living alone to $54,550 for a family of nine people or more. There is an annual cost of living adjustment but not a geographic adjustment.  Not a lot of money. America has one of the highest rates of poverty for children in the developed world. According to OECD, America ranks 17th out of the 19 OECD countries in poverty.
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I have always read that the poverty rate for children in the United States for the past decade has been about 21%. However, the Census Bureau has said that "For children under age 18, 18.0 percent in 2016....Children represented 23.0 percent of the total population and 32.6 percent of the people in poverty." Children under 18 totaled almost 74 million people which means we have almost 1 in 5 children in this country in poverty; these children live mostly in the inner cities and rural areas although some of the suburban areas outside of our largest cities have increased poverty levels.




The effects of poverty are devastating. Here is one summary, Eric Jensen's How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement - Health - A study by two prominent neuroscientists suggested that intelligence is linked to health (Gray & Thompson, 2004). The poor have more untreated ear infections and hearing loss  issues (Menyuk, 1980); greater exposure to lead (Sargent et al., 1995); and a higher incidence of asthma (Gottlieb, Beiser, & O'Connor, 1995) than middleclass children. Each of these health related factors can affect attention, reasoning, learning, and memory.


Nutrition - Nutrition plays a crucial role as well. Children who grow up in poor families are exposed to food with lower nutritional value. This can adversely affect them even in the womb (AntonowSchlorke et al., 2011). Moreover, poor nutrition at breakfast affects gray matter mass in children's brains (Taki et al., 2010). Skipping breakfast is highly prevalent among urban minority youth, and it negatively affects students' academic achievement by adversely affecting cognition and raising absenteeism (Basch, 2011).




Stress - Low income parents' chronic stress affects their kids through chronic activation of their children's immune systems, which taxes available resources and has long reaching effects (Blair & Raver, 2012). Distress affects brain development, academic success, and social competence (Evans, Kim, Ting, Tesher, & Shannis, 2007). It also impairs behaviors; reduces attentional control (Liston, McEwen, & Casey, 2009); boosts impulsivity (Evans, 2003); and impairs working memory (Evans & Schamberg, 2009).


With all these issues that children in poverty face, we spend enormous amounts of time and energy and limited resources insisting that all children can learn rather than committing that time, energy and resources to improving our children's standard of living. If we truly want children in poverty to be better educated, improve their families' standard of living.


























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