2015′s Best and Worst States for Underprivileged Children

by Richie Bernardo

States-with-the-Most-and-Least-Underprivileged-Children-BadgesIn an ideal world, children live carefree and have access to their basic needs: nutritious food, a good education, quality health care, adequate safety as well as the love and support of caring adults. When all of these needs are met, children have a strong chance of growing up to become productive members of society. But such fundamental rights are privileges for many children in the U.S. Despite its position as one of the world’s most powerful and prosperous countries, the U.S. disappointingly has the second highest rate of child poverty among economically developed nations.

To put that in perspective, about a fifth, or 14.7 million, of all children in America live under poverty, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. Consider these other facts: In the U.S., a baby is born into poverty every 32 seconds. And by the end of the day, 1,837 children will have been confirmed as being either abused or neglected.

In light of Child Support Awareness Month and International Youth Day, WalletHub compared the welfare of young people within the 50 states and the District of Columbia to underscore the social issues plaguing one of the most vulnerable groups of Americans. The comparison was based on a set of 15 key metrics, ranging from infant death rates to child food-insecurity rates to the percentage of maltreated children. Our findings, as well as expert commentary and a detailed methodology, can be found below.

Main Findings


 

Overall Rank

State

“Early Foundations & Economic Well-Being” Rank

“Health” Rank

“Education” Rank

1 New Hampshire 2 1 9
2 New Jersey 6 2 4
3 Minnesota 3 4 11
4 Connecticut 7 3 8
5 North Dakota 4 18 2
6 Wisconsin 11 8 1
7 Utah 1 24 20
8 Iowa 9 10 4
9 Massachusetts 17 4 6
10 Virginia 7 7 17
11 Nebraska 13 16 6
12 Vermont 24 6 3
13 Wyoming 10 14 20
14 Kansas 14 29 10
15 Colorado 12 23 14
16 Maryland 15 11 18
17 Illinois 18 11 18
18 Idaho 5 22 39
19 Pennsylvania 20 15 15
20 South Dakota 16 28 24
21 Washington 22 9 33
22 Delaware 21 20 29
23 Montana 25 27 23
24 Hawaii 19 13 38
25 Missouri 34 26 22
26 Maine 35 34 11
27 Texas 23 38 25
28 Indiana 26 47 15
29 California 30 18 37
30 New York 37 17 32
31 Rhode Island 45 21 28
32 Ohio 32 33 26
33 Kentucky 47 32 13
34 Michigan 33 30 35
35 North Carolina 40 36 30
36 Tennessee 46 39 27
37 Oregon 38 24 44
38 West Virginia 27 45 42
39 Oklahoma 31 49 33
40 Alaska 28 40 45
41 Nevada 29 31 50
42 Alabama 43 35 40
43 Arkansas 44 50 31
44 South Carolina 39 46 40
45 Florida 48 43 36
46 Louisiana 36 41 49
47 New Mexico 40 42 46
48 Georgia 42 47 43
49 Arizona 50 37 48
50 Mississippi 48 51 46
51 District of Columbia 51 43 51

Best-States-for-Underprivileged-Children-Artwork

Ask the Experts

All children deserve a meaningful childhood. Unfortunately, not every child will experience one. In order to identify key problem areas and learn how best to address them, we asked a panel of experts to share their thoughts and advice. Click on the experts’ profiles below to read their bios and responses to the following questions:

  1. Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?
  2. Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?
  3. How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?
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  • Mary Caplan Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, University of Georgia, Athens
  • James Wright Provost Distinguished Research Professor, Pegasus Professor Department of Sociology, University of Central Florida
  • Mary McKay Ph.D. Director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University Silver School of Social Work
  • Paul Thayer Associate Professor of Education and Child life, Co-Chair, Department of Child Life and Family Studies, Wheelock College
  • Patricia P. Rieker Visiting Professor of Sociology at Boston University
  • Joan Maya Mazelis Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University-Camden, and author of a forthcoming book: “Our Strength Is in Our Unity: Sustainable Ties Among the Poor”
  • Diana M. Dinitto Cullen Trust Centennial Professor in Alcohol Studies and Education, and Distinguished Teaching Professor in the School of Social Work at University of Texas at Austin
  • Amanda L. Beal Assistant Professor of Political Science at Mount St. Mary's University, and Official Representative of The Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research
  • Joseph Patten Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University
  • Kathryn L. Maguire Jack Assistant Professor in the College of Social Work at Ohio State University
  • Gene R. Nichol Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law at University of North Carolina School of Law
  • James V. Rowan Professor of Law and Director of the Clinical Programs at Northeastern University School of Law
  • Annette Semanchin Jones Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at University at Buffalo
  • Margaret K. Nelson A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College
  • Mark Harvey Associate Professor of Sociology at Florida Atlantic University, Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters
  • Angie Moe Professor of Sociology at Western Michigan University
  • Christi Bamford Assistant Professor of Psychology at Jacksonville University
  • Crystal C. Hall Assistant Professor of Public Affairs at University of Washington, Evans School of Public Affairs and Governance
  • Kathleen Dyer Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Child, Family, and Consumer Sciences at California State University, Fresno
  • Fadhel Kaboub Associate Professor of Economics at Denison University, and President of The Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity
  • Heather Downs Assistant Professor of Sociology at Jacksonville University
  • Sara Harkness Director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Health and Human Development, and Professor of Human Development, Pediatrics, and Public Health at University of Connecticut
  • Sandy Bamford Executive Director at Family Literacy Connection
  • Lauren G. Fasig Caldwell Director of the Children, Youth & Families Office at The American Psychological Association
  • Megan Smith Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Child Study and Public Health at the Yale University School of Medicine
  • C. Damien Arthur Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy at Marshall University
  • Antonio Garcia Assistant Professor and Co-director of the Child Well-being & Child Welfare Specialization (CW2) in the School of Social Policy & Practice at University of Pennsylvania

Mary Caplan

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, University of Georgia, Athens
Mary Caplan
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Yes, it can. The stress of poverty, exacerbated by associated problems like racism, can have effects on several levels, from epigenetic effects (meaning if and how genes get expressed in the person, their offspring, and in generations to come) to intellectual, health and social effects. Some research has found that children who grow up poor are more likely to have intellectual disabilities, unstable jobs as adults, as well as commit more crimes. They are also more likely to remain in poverty during their lives. It also depends on when the child experiences poverty, with early childhood being the most damaging time, with the brain developing rapidly from birth to age three. Why does poverty have such effects? It's the disadvantage and stress that comes with poverty that are the key issues. Poverty should not simply be considered a lack of income; some people (priests, for example) are poor by choice but do not suffer adverse consequences. In a high GDP country like the United States, where there is a national narrative of meritocracy but a reality of social and economic immobility (rich people tend to stay rich, poor people tend to stay poor, and the middle class is in flux), social pressures to consume, and disparities in health care and education, it is no wonder that the cumulative disadvantage takes its toll.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Elected officials can improve the welfare of children in poverty in several ways, as there is no one "magic bullet" to solving this interrelated and complex problem. If we consider parents who work at low-wage jobs, free and accessible childcare as well as early childhood education are needed. A living wage is also needed to enable working families to make ends meet, and many community efforts are underway to increase the minimum wage across the country. Investment in struggling communities that build on residents' talents to create commercial and cooperative firms can create more stability and health.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Social change, like civil rights, occurs when ordinary people come together and gain power and voice to improve conditions, such as mothers working together in a community to create high quality childcare to a community organization working with elected officials to change policies. At least two major things stand in the way of this: the time it takes to organize, time that working people often do not have, and a political climate that disdains anything related to "community organizing".

James Wright

Provost Distinguished Research Professor, Pegasus Professor Department of Sociology, University of Central Florida
James Wright
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

There are literally hundreds of studies examining the effects of poverty on children -- on their physical and emotional well-being, their education attainment, their social-psychological profile; etc., and nearly all conclude that the effects are negative. How far into adulthood these effects persist is a more difficult question to answer, but since childhood occurs in the "formative years," the assumption is that the damage is generally long-term. A lot apparently depends on the nature of the family's poverty, whether episodic and short-term or chronic and long-term. The depth of the family's poverty (whether near to or far beneath the poverty standard) also seems to matter. A reasonable conclusion is that poverty, like war, is "not healthy for children and other living things.”

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Probably not, although one can make a strong case that "public officials" are also not placing a "sufficiently high priority" on the needs of seniors, the transportation system, the nation's infrastructure, education, health care, agriculture, and on through an endless list. What should and should not be a national priority is a political, not a scientific, question. As for the second part of the question, I am tempted to say that any effort to address the poverty of children and its effects will fail unless the poverty of their parents is also addressed. Granting that point, there is evidence to suggest that the earlier one intervenes, the better, beginning with proper prenatal care and sufficient attention to maternal nutrition during pregnancy.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Again, early intervention appears to be key. By the time children get to school, certain outcomes are already more or less predetermined. A critical predictor of success in school is how early kids learn to read. Learning to read, in turn, is predicted by how early in life children learn to recognize letters, learn letter sounds, and understand how letters combine to form words, words combined to form sentences, etc. And all this is best predicted by how often children are read to before they start school.

Mary McKay Ph.D.

Director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University Silver School of Social Work
Mary McKay Ph.D.
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

There is a considerable body of research establishing that poverty and its consequences -- including subpar education, unstable housing, food insecurity, poor health and mental health, child welfare involvement, and exposure to violence and other traumatic experiences – have lasting adverse impacts into adulthood unless they are actively mitigated.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

First of all, it is important that we not blame impoverished families and communities for their circumstances. Research by Dr. Mimi Abramovitz and Dr. Jochen Albrecht, from Hunter College's Silberman School ofSocial Work and Department of Geography respectively, has established the undermining impact of accumulated social disadvantage and adverse living conditions not just on individuals and families but on whole communities. Abramovitz and Albrecht actually mapped the prevalence of six types of uncontrollable, devastating losses in New York City and found they were concentrated in Black and Latino communities also struggling with poverty. Any one of the losses – including incarceration, unemployment/job loss, foreclosure, foster care placement, long-term hospitalization and untimely death -- would be challenging for an individual to recover from. Overcoming the concentration of losses on the individual and community level is extremely difficult, especially for those that have few resources to draw on. It is important that those who want to help families and communities struggling with poverty start with such a 'trauma-informed' perspective. The objective is not to tell families and communities what to do but to empower them and help them harness their own strengths.

Paul Thayer

Associate Professor of Education and Child life, Co-Chair, Department of Child Life and Family Studies, Wheelock College
Paul Thayer
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

The term “poverty” itself may be misleading. It is estimated that approximately one in five American families meet some federal definition of being in poverty (Wood, 2003), but this statistic encompasses the transitory poor, the chronically poor, and the very poor. The urban poor may face challenges very different from the rural poor. Much of the suburban poor, in particular, is hidden from friends and neighbors. They are very diverse but what they all have in common is the challenge of sharing in the American dream.

Poverty itself is not necessarily a sentence to a life of dysfunction and lack of achievement. To be sure, many Americans who grow up in poverty have succeeded to become great leaders and agents of societal change, but the effects of poverty should not be minimized by narratives of overcoming adversity despite all odds.

Children growing up in poor environments have many risks to their development that are correlated with poverty. These include poor educational opportunities and the necessity to take on adult roles at an early age (Kendig, Mattingly, Bianchi, 2014), short supply of regulated child care (Lee, 2005), violence, struggling families and family substance abuse (Wood, 2003), and a lengthy list of health concerns including higher mortality rates, greater risk of accidents, higher risk of asthma, lower developmental scores, and lower odds of early intervention (Aber, Bennett, Conley, and Li, 1997).

So does experiencing poverty necessarily have lasting consequences into adulthood? The answer for many appears to be yes, more or less. Many children do seem to be remarkably resilient and manage to find the right combination of personal qualities and help from others to escape many of the negative consequences by the time they arrive at adulthood.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

For the many children who may not have access to family or community resources, government has a responsibility to provide resources to assist them to reach their full potential. These resources include food stamps, subsidized school lunch programs, affordable housing, birth to five universal pre-school, access to healthcare, parenting support, and substance abuse treatment among others. Increases in the minimum wage are a concrete commitment to better the lives of the working poor.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Government programs do not absolve individuals of their personal responsibility to help children who, through no fault of their own, do not have the same shot at success. Most anti-poverty programs subsist on a combination of government grants along with charitable donations. We have a long history of charitable giving in this country and most donors are not rich. Supporting community and faith-based organizations who serve the poor is an ethical investment in creating a society where no child is left behind. We also know that one trusting adult relationship often does more than any program can accomplish. Giving an encouraging word, committing to a mentoring relationship, and involvement in volunteer programs that support our youth all make a tremendous difference.

Investment in prevention programs and programs that assist those who struggle are sound economic investments in our future, much like retirement planning, balanced budgets, and infrastructure improvements. Allowing all children a fair shot at the American dream improves us all and creates the future society we all hope for.



Aber, JL, Bennett, N., Conley, D. & Li, J. (1997).The effects of poverty on child health and development.Annual Review Public Health, 18:463-83.

Kendig, S., Mattingly, M., & Bianchi, S. (2014). Childhood poverty and the transition to adulthood.Family Relations, 62.3.

Lee, K. (2005). Effects of experimental center-based child care on developmental outcomes of young children living in poverty. Social Science Review, March 2005.

Wood, D. (2003).Effect of child and family poverty on child health in the United States. Pediatrics, 112:3.

Patricia P. Rieker

Visiting Professor of Sociology at Boston University
Patricia P. Rieker
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Poverty alone does not produce lasting negative effects in adulthood. From my perspective it is the context in which it occurs that leads to a variety of problems in adulthood. If there is a lack of nurturing, safety, nutrition, and unsafe housing along with the poverty then this leads to negative outcomes in adulthood. Moreover, when there is severe deprivation accompanied by violence and abuse then we see ill health, inability to trust and form positive relationships, low educational attainment, lack of steady employment, poor health habits (among other outcomes) in adulthood. It is like comparing the roots of 2 trees: one new tree is planted in rich soil and gets watered regularly, sees lots of sunshine, has room to grow and receives general attention — the roots are strong and sturdy and the tree thrives. The other tree is planted in dry soil, is not watered, seldom sees sunshine, has little space in which to grow - the roots are weak and the tree becomes scraggly and cannot resist opportunistic tree diseases.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?
  1. Some elected officials are and some are not. It is definitely a mixed picture. It depends on what level of elected officials one is thinking about. For example, some states and cities provide early education experiences, nutritional subsidies for low income children, access to health care, enrichment programs, and other targeted services while others (such as Mississippi) direct few resources this way. Having such a priority appears to depend on having the vision/values to care about low income children and a stable economy to provide the funding for programs.
  2. Programs to improve the welfare and outcomes for low income children need to be focused on a variety of services and to take place at the community level. For example, there needs to be ways to address the needs of the parents such as subsidized day care or employment and programs geared to child health and nutrition, smoke free environments, early education experiences, educational enrichment, and adequate housing supplements. Any program that contributes to a child’s (and the parents’) welfare will give that child options and opportunities for a productive and healthy life in adulthood. There is considerable data to suggest that the investment in child welfare has lasting economic and health effects.
How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

As I mentioned above, services to families of low income children are as important as services to children directly. Mitigating the negative effects of poverty on children requires understanding the constraints that families and their children confront on a daily basis. This could include adequate housing, good nutrition, special health care needs, cognitive and social development deficits, safety and security, programs that don’t name and shame low income families, building neighborhoods that are violence free and have access to parks and recreation etc. Really, it means providing many of the same amenities that middle and higher income children take for granted by enhancing the capacity of low income children to learn, trust in the future, and thrive physically and mentally. It’s not a mystery really.

Joan Maya Mazelis

Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University-Camden, and author of a forthcoming book: “Our Strength Is in Our Unity: Sustainable Ties Among the Poor”
Joan Maya Mazelis
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

I think there’s a lot of research that says yes. For example, poverty in childhood can come with malnutrition and other health risks that can affect development. If you’re raised in poverty in a poor neighborhood, you are also more likely to be exposed to hazards like lead paint, to have chronic conditions like asthma — the effects of these dangers persist to adulthood. There’s also research that points to negative, lasting effects of stress, and poverty is very stress-inducing. Living in poverty also often means residential instability – living in substandard housing and needing to move frequently – which in turn can affect social networks. It’s hard to develop ties with people you can rely on if there is a lot of residential turnover, and hard to develop ties with those in a higher socioeconomic class who could serve as valuable social connections. On top of food and housing insecurity and other issues, the stress of dealing with all that can really affect people for the long haul.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

I don’t think elected officials place a high enough priority on the needs of underprivileged kids. I think there are some efforts to expand some popular programs, calls for universal pre-K, etc. But those tend to address one issue of an interconnected many -- affordable child care is great, but what about affordable housing? And part of the problem is that our efforts tend to be concentrated on the very young. We need to support kids as they age; we need more recreational and enrichment activities available for adolescents and better employment support as people get older. We need to do more to make college more affordable, so those who can’t afford it aren’t left with crushing debt that will only make it all the more difficult to provide financial security for their own kids. Those who aren’t going to college need their high schools to prepare them for the labor market and aid in job placement through links with employers – there are some models of this so far that have had great success and we should expand them, but it also requires governmental investment. And wage supports are as important as employment supports – the EITC is a very effective and politically popular program, and has the additional positive consequence of slightly better economic security for the kids of those earners. So investing in underprivileged kids to me means investing in programs to aid them as kids, as adolescents, and as adults who then have the next generation of kids so that next generation has parents who have a more stable footing and so those kids have a better start — we should be thinking seriously about how investing in kids is really investing in the next generation of adults, too.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

I think there are some things families and communities can do, but it’s an uphill battle without more governmental investment. We need to better support poor families and communities so they *can* do more. For example, it’s hard to say communities should have more cohesiveness or take care of the neediest among them when low wages threaten neighborhood residential stability, as I noted in my answer to the first question above, and when everyone in a neighborhood is struggling in poverty. I think the answers are more at the structural level in terms of the labor market and tax policy and less at the individual and community level.

Diana M. Dinitto

Cullen Trust Centennial Professor in Alcohol Studies and Education, and Distinguished Teaching Professor in the School of Social Work at University of Texas at Austin
Diana M. Dinitto
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

The relationship between education and income is clear: income rises with education. Children in higher income communities have greater access to schools and other resources that improve their opportunities and chances of getting a better education from the start, going to college, getting better jobs, and earning more. They have greater access to social capital such as contacts and networks that can also help them as they move from childhood to adulthood. Children who live in communities that lack economic resources generally do not have the same opportunities. There are also negative long-term implications for health and mental health when one lacks the resources to obtain a regular source of care and due to the chronic stresses of living in poverty at an early age.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

The title of one of the chapters in my textbook is "Ending Poverty: Is It An Issue Anymore?". In the 1930s and 1960s there were concerted national efforts to reduce poverty. These efforts resulted in many successes such as tremendous reductions in poverty among older adults and universal access to healthcare for older adults, healthcare access for some individuals who are very poor, and greater access to food for those with low incomes. We have lost the focus on ending poverty, and, I think, have become complacent about the poverty that does exist. Approximately one fifth of children in the United States live in poverty (not counting those that live in low-income families that do not meet the poverty definition). The figures are higher for children who are Hispanic or Black. Income inequality has grown, meaning that is more difficult to move up economically.

When it comes to children and their families, the U.S. social welfare system is largely residual, i.e., it generally helps people (especially younger people) only after their situation becomes dire rather than preventing poverty in the first place. To improve the situation, let's start at the very beginning. We lack decent maternity, paternity, and family leave policies that help parents maintain their jobs while nurturing their children. Families with young children need more supports, not only the very poorest, but also other families who are struggling to meet basic expenses. They often need help to secure health care as well as appropriate childcare while parents work (childcare is expensive and often unaffordable for a parent or parents earning low wages). Greater access to childcare and pre-k education are some ways to support families and help children get a better start in life. The costs of higher education have increased making it more difficult to obtain a college degree that can lead to a better job. We also don't make enough use of programs such as apprenticeships, beginning at the high school level, so that each child can decide whether college or another route to a good job is best for him or her. We know that U.S. health care expenditures (per capita and as a percent of GDP) are much higher than in other countries in which virtually everyone has health insurance and the same access to healthcare. We need a more rational approach to meeting children's basic needs and distributing resources to provide a decent level or floor of social welfare benefits for all children and their families. The earned income tax credit (EITC) is a very successful anti-poverty effort for families with children; there is no stigma attached to using it. A more generous EITC (or other ways to make the income tax system more progressive) would be helpful. Thinking about programs from a more universal perspective is also an important point to consider. Consider the benefits that would accrue from universal pre-k education or from universal healthcare rather than a two-tier system of care -- one for those who have the resources to obtain care and one for those who lack these resources. Of course, some people dismiss these approaches by calling them socialism rather than give serious consideration to the solutions needed to see that children's basic needs are met.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

First, we need to do what is necessary to eliminate or drastically reduce poverty as indicated above. Families and communities must also push for the necessary supports -- safe communities with good schools and other resources (parenting resources, childcare, mentoring, after school programs). All children deserve the individual support necessary to help them realize their talents and pursue their goals, and sometimes that involves assisting their parents as well, with, for example, family-friendly workplace policies and help for parents who have not had sufficient opportunities find the routes they need to obtain decent jobs. (There are a lot of other aspects of this topic that could be considered such as minimum or living wages, child support enforcement, TANF, children in foster care.)

Amanda L. Beal

Assistant Professor of Political Science at Mount St. Mary's University, and Official Representative of The Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research
Amanda L. Beal
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Yes, yes, yes. On average, children who grow up in poverty have lower quality healthcare, which can have lasting effects into adulthood. Children from low income families are more likely to live in poorer neighborhoods, which have lower quality schools, and these children do not stay in school as long as children from more affluent families. Consequently, children from low income families often end up with lower paying jobs, constructing a cycle a poverty that travels from one generation to the next. In addition, children from low income families are more likely to get in trouble with the law, have children at a younger age and have children outside of marriage. This, of course, has a substantial impact on them into adulthood. Finally, there is some support for the argument that low income often results in stress and emotional issues for parents and that this is transferred to the children, potential harming their emotional well-being in to adulthood.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty? and How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

First, the answer to these questions will vary greatly depending on whom you ask; it will vary by political and social ideology as well as by which regions or states the person is most familiar. Some states and some local neighborhoods make much more of an effort to provide and care for underprivileged children than others.

That being said, our elected officials and we as citizens are overwhelmingly focused on the most polarizing components of our responsibility to the poor. The debate is almost always about whether the government should do more or less than it is currently doing instead of encouraging financial and spiritual charity to the poor from each of us as individuals and as a part of the community. This debate rarely even reaches a more nuanced discussion on what should be done, who should do it and how to do it in ways that most help underprivileged children. In fact, one side of the debate is often filled with voices that suggest that nothing should be done at all while the other side wants to make government the only entity that is responsible to our children. The truth is, however, that as a society, we have largely failed because we have not demanded reliable information and a response to that information from the media, our elected officials, our businesses, our churches, ourselves and our own children. Regardless of whether one believes that the government has sufficiently prioritized the needs of underprivileged children, it is undeniably true that we as a society have been less charitable than we should be in understanding and attempting to alleviate the effects of poverty on children. By charity, however, do not mistake my claims for being purely financial in nature. Charity comes in all forms and includes the practices of compassion and love. It is this compassion that we need to foster in society if we are to improve the lives of underprivileged children. Let me elaborate ...

Many of children from low income families face malnutrition, either in the form of undernourishment or, more commonly, dietary imbalances. Meanwhile, in the US, we throw away at least one third of our food. This food could be donated to charitable organizations in order to feed needy families with healthier foods and, while there is an increasing focus on this in the media, we are still throwing out too much food rather than making sure it reaches those in need. If we increase food donations, we could substantially supplement incomes for families with many children to feed, making it easier to supply other necessities like healthcare. Instead, however, we throw out a lot of our food because we are more concerned with perceived liability and the extra effort it would take to store and then donate the food – even though there is little to no liability issue to be concerned about. If we thought and behaved more charitably to the poor, acknowledging that children should not be held responsible for any actions of their parents that (we perceive) may have created, encouraged or prolonged the low income situation, we would donate our food waste regardless of our knowledge of the government incentives to do so.

There is more bad news, however. Our education system is in a state of crisis and it not only keeps children from low income families in a cycle of poverty, it underprepares and under-informs students from all socio-economic backgrounds (though children from low income families are the most negatively affected). Most of the debate regarding education is whether we can improve education for all through better financing or better teachers and on encouraging everyone to go to college, this obscure larger obstacles and larger social issues. First, we as a society focus too much on how much money a school district receives and on the perceived failings of our teachers, yet we tie the hands of our teachers when we blame them for the parents’ failings or difficulties. We must foster a responsibility in each child for their own education, pushing them to meet the demands in the classroom rather than blaming teachers and administrators when they do not achieve what their parents’ expect.

Second, in an attempt to improve the standards of living and quality of life for all Americans, we also tie the hands of our educators through an emphasis on standardized testing. Instead, we should be focusing on various levels and types of knowledge and informing students on how there are several educational paths to well-being. We know now that the focus on standardized testing does not work yet we continue to focus on improving test scores. This focus on testing and the blaming of teachers has actually decreased the quality of our education system, shrinking the cultural benefits of education (like basic understanding of personal finance or options for healthcare) and making students ill-prepared for their next steps.

Yes, college scholarships exist, but children from low income families rarely know where to look for them or how to apply – and our education system is failing them in this respect. High tuitions and lack of information have disadvantaged children from low income families who manage to stay in school and get an education. Even if they complete high school, they are not informed of their options and, if they choose to go to college, they are often ill-prepared for their studies or the debt they are going to accumulate. The lucky ones learn about programs and scholarships that help them finance their education, but many others either never go to college or accumulate debt in an attempt to do so. We need to give more detailed information on the scholarships, programs and other options that are available to high school students. Similarly, there are many respectable and good paying jobs that do not require a four year degree, but we fail to acknowledge the benefits of these jobs and the necessity of them when advising high school students (e.g., being a plumber, a carpenter, a welder, an HVAC technician, or a nurse). Instead, we tell students that they need a four-year degree and, after accumulating years of debt, many of them end up in careers that did not require the education they paid for and could not really afford.

The most difficult part of this discussion is that no one thing can be done in isolation if we hope to improve the lives of underprivileged children and limit the impacts of poverty on the next generation. However, the clear fact is this -- it starts with each and every one of us and our efforts to think more compassionately about the poor. This is especially true of the rhetoric surrounding poverty. More detailed discussions of poverty in America, what it is like, and what can be done are absolutely essential to improving the lives of underprivileged children. Our representatives, the media nor we as citizens properly convey and emphasize this sentiment because the debate is too focused on whether the government should play a role. This obscures a much larger point – children are innocent recipients of poverty and they deserve our attention and our charity and that should be our focus. We as citizens need to demand more nuanced discussions with compassionate, practical and equitable solutions for underprivileged children. If we are to properly prioritize our efforts towards underprivileged children, it starts with knowledge and the fostering of charity towards the most vulnerable in our population. This needs to happen at all levels – the individual, the family, the neighborhood, the society and the government.

Joseph Patten

Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University
Joseph Patten
How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Impoverished kids living in community based poverty have even greater challenges as they are sometimes enrolled in high schools known as dropout factories and have trouble finding healthy support systems because peers are living in equally precarious environments. This produces a number of social ills. Approximately 68% of the 2.3 million Americans incarcerated are high school drop-outs, including most violent criminals. One 2014 study from the Brookings Institute found that African American male drop-outs have a 70% chance of being incarcerated over their lifetimes. Roughly 70% of high school drop-outs aged 16-24 are unemployed and single mothers are nine times more likely to be high school drop-outs. Another study found that college graduates will contribute almost $800,000 to the public coffers over their lifetimes whereas high school drop-outs are a net drain of $300,000 to taxpayers.

Given these realities, the best way for a community to address childhood poverty is to develop holistic and personalized learning experiences for impoverished kids. Experience has shown that increasing funding for education alone will not improve conditions if funds are used for higher teacher salaries or to create administrative bloat. Instead, funds need to attach to programs that have a proven track record for elevating a child’s self-esteem, test scores, and graduation rates.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Children neither vote nor pay taxes, and this is widely reflected in our public policy, as the old adage goes. This is especially true of children living in poverty. These kids typically endure a number of “toxic stressors” brought on by other social conditions such as parental incarcerations, domestic violence, homelessness, and/or rampant alcohol and drug abuse. Studies also show that dysfunctional behavior in adulthood is typically caused by lingering effects of early childhood traumas. Children, for example, living in poverty are five times more likely to drop out of school than those living in high income families. It is difficult for impoverished kids to concentrate on their studies if destabilizing conditions at home follow them through the school house gates.

Kathryn L. Maguire Jack

Assistant Professor in the College of Social Work at Ohio State University
Kathryn L. Maguire Jack
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Children living in poverty face a host of challenges that can last long into adulthood. Growing up in poverty has been found to be associated with poorer academic and behavioral outcomes during adolescence and young adulthood. Children in poverty also have poorer health outcomes than other children and experience other traumatic experiences at higher rates, including child maltreatment and other forms of family and community violence. These negative experiences can have lasting impacts into adulthood, creating challenges in virtually all domains of functioning.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Interventions that target multiple levels of the social ecology including helping individual parents, schools, and entire communities are likely to have the greatest impact. Efforts to improve neighborhood safety, increase job opportunities, increase effective social services, and improve access to community assets such as parks, green spaces, and community gardens are all likely to buffer the negative effects of poverty on children. Such efforts must also be coupled with genuine efforts to relieve poverty, to not only mitigate the negative impacts, but also, to prevent them for future generations. All children deserve to have their most basic needs met, but importantly, all children deserve to grow up in healthy, safe, and supportive environments in order to flourish.

Gene R. Nichol

Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law at University of North Carolina School of Law
Gene R. Nichol
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

We know poverty inflicts wrenching hardship on children. Poor kids are far more likely to be hungry, or homeless, or to live in substandard housing and dangerous neighborhoods, to have diminished access to transportation, and to be victims of crime and violence. They have lower birth weights, higher infant mortality rates, worse health outcomes, and shorter life expectancies than wealthier children. They even have diminished brain size and reduced capacity to process sensory information. As Duke’s Candice Odgers writes, “the effects of poverty are toxic (and) biologically imbedded, they get under the skin.”

James V. Rowan

Professor of Law and Director of the Clinical Programs at Northeastern University School of Law
James V. Rowan
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Of course, but the consequences are not identical. As a general matter, health, education and income are all adversely impacted by poverty in childhood.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Priorities are uniquely a matter of opinion. In my opinion, we have not made the reduction of childhood poverty a sufficiently high priority. The starting point could be food security by insuring adequate SNAP benefits along with safe, decent and sanitary housing through housing vouchers.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Individuals can reach out a helping hand; communities can insure adequate housing free from discrimination based on race and class. Individuals can contribute time and money and communities can insure that those in need are helped as much as possible.

Annette Semanchin Jones

Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at University at Buffalo
Annette Semanchin Jones
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Numerous research studies have indicated a correlation between poverty in childhood and increased risk of later negative consequences across numerous domains, including: educational attainment and unemployment, cognitive development and physical health. Research also suggests that the poverty in early childhood and prolonged extreme poverty (families with income below 50% of the poverty line) may be particularly detrimental for long-term well-being outcomes into adulthood. Children and families in extreme poverty are more likely to face multiple stressors, including increased likelihood of living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, and inadequate access to resources and supports such as quality child care, schools, and health care. In a national incidence study, children from families with incomes less than $15,000 were found to be 5 times more likely to experience child maltreatment (NIS-4, 2010). Reducing childhood poverty should be a policy priority in the U.S.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

One in five children in the United States lives in poverty. For African American, American Indian and Latino children, the number is closer to one in three children living in poverty. Given the extensive body of research on the negative impacts of poverty and the staggering number of children that continue to live in poverty in this county, it seems clear that much more needs to be done on a social policy level. Childhood poverty is a complex issue that will necessarily involve complex solutions. Several existing social policies have aimed to address aspects of childhood poverty, such as the EITC, the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and food support through SNAP and school lunch programs. In addition to expanding programs like EITC, much more can be done to provide for a financial safety net, such as policies that promote jobs with a living wage, more affordable housing in urban areas, and high quality, universal early childhood programs.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

From an ecological perspective, children develop within the context of families and communities. In addition to the Federal programs noted, states and local communities can also strengthen policies that support families and communities, such as state tax credit programs for working families, raising minimum wages, and improving access to high quality early child care and preschool programs. Recent research also shows that experiences of early toxic stress and trauma can impact brain development if not mitigated, including the ability of children to regulate their emotions, which can impact their success in school and social competencies in later relationships. This in particular suggests that there is a critical need for improved policies and trauma-informed programs to intervene early with children and families that have experience trauma, to promote resiliency and child and family well-being.

Margaret K. Nelson

A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College
Margaret K. Nelson
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

The focus on children in this question assumes that poor adults are no longer worth saving, that we should only seek to improve the lives of the “next” generation. Addressing the needs of poor adults could, and should, be a major goal of social policy. One very practical reason for doing so is that a considerable (and growing) body of scholarship suggests that many of the “bad decisions” poor people make on a daily basis are the effects, rather than the causes, of their poverty. Addressing the needs of poor adults (and I say more about this below) could go far in preventing children from facing the consequences of the “bad decisions” of those who care about, and care for, those children.

Even among children who live in families where adults make “good” decisions, growing up in poverty can have lasting consequences that extend into their adulthood. These include the negative effects of malnutrition, poor health, stress, and limited cognitive stimulation. These circumstances can leave marks on the brains of children resulting in impaired levels of academic performance. All of these are more severe the more severe the poverty itself; all of these can be reversed through intervention. That is, poverty can have lasting negative consequences but a negative outcome is not inevitable. (A good recent review of this material can be found here. )

The effects of growing up in poverty extend beyond those generated within the family to those generated by poor neighborhoods, limited networks, and inadequate institutions. The neighborhoods in which the urban poor live (even more so than those of the rural poor) have some of the worst air quality measures in the country; residents of homes in poor neighborhoods still battle with lead paint. When networks composed of family and friends cannot provide modeling for, and connections into the world of steady employment, children are left to learn these skills on their own and to forge their own social ties. Current research demonstrates that even modest links to organizations like child care centers can make a difference by providing the network connections parents and children need to help them move up the economic ladder. Finally, our institutions matter. The health consequences of inadequate dental and medical care impede one’s ability to learn. Inadequate schools fail to overcome the many impediments faced by poor children and youth; they also have their own negative impact of achievement levels.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

The answer to the first is, quite simply, “no.” The simple fact that poverty continues to have negative consequences is clear evidence that we are not doing everything we could to meet the needs of our poorest citizens.

The answer to the second question is more complex. A few thoughts, most of which are oriented to changing the lives of adults so that they can help themselves and their children:

First, our elected officials could make sure that as a society we provide all parents with maternity/paternity leave sufficient that the parents have the opportunity to bond with and nurture their own children. We could also provide supports that help parents learn how to interact with their children in ways that result in healthy intellectual and emotional growth. Many such programs exist but access to these programs if far from universal.

Second, as a society we could continue to ensure through the provision of adequate leave that parents can care for children when they are sick; we could also ensure through adequate vacation time that parents have opportunity to enjoy leisure time with children.

Third, excellent health care, excellent preschool programs and excellent public schools in local neighborhoods are important at every income level.

Finally, a government minimum wage that is also a “livable wage” would, quite simply, abolish poverty and thus almost entirely erase the current negative consequences of living without adequate means.

I might note here that by and large I have not emphasized special programs designed to ease the situation of the poor such as state-supported welfare, food stamps, school vouchers, and Medicaid. I firmly believe that universal programs (like Medicare and Social Security) prove far more successful than do means-tested programs. The latter are always under attack; the former always garner broad public support.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Families and communities cannot mitigate the negative effects of poverty on their children unless they mitigate the negative effects of poverty on themselves. And they cannot do that unless they receive support for their efforts to do so. People who believe otherwise often suggest lifting oneself up by one’s bootstraps, a task that is literally impossible. A better suggestion would be intervention that gives people who live in poor communities a hand in deciding their own fate. The strategy is neither quick nor cheap. However, it makes more sense to build on success than on the many failures of previous approaches.

Mark Harvey

Associate Professor of Sociology at Florida Atlantic University, Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters
Mark Harvey
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

It depends. “Poverty” varies greatly. In general, there is less class mobility in America than most people think, that is, kids who are born into families in the bottom quintile of the income distribution are more likely to end up there as adults than kids born into higher quintiles. Place and race are big factors as well. Poverty among minorities tends to be highly geographically concentrated in urban and rural ghettos. This compounds the effects of poverty on individuals, limiting their access to education, jobs, housing, and even safety. It is reasonable to hypothesize that children who grow up in concentrated poverty experience more lasting effects.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Overall, no. The elderly are far more of a priority for elected officials. The 1996 welfare reform act made accessing assistance more difficult for families with children who need it, especially in those areas of concentrated poverty due to lack of jobs and services. It also did little to improve access to childcare services, especially in rural areas of concentrated poverty. Efforts to do the same with food stamps, i.e., impose work requirements, time limits, and devolve to the states, would likely be very harmful. The erosion of the minimum wage has also hurt the working poor and their children. That said, the expansion of the EITC in the 1990s was a positive step and the State Children’s Health Care Program (SCHIP) has been pretty effective.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Families and communities are the safety net of last resort and already stretched to their limits. The real answer lies with progressive reforms to the labor market and welfare state. That said, communities of means need to stretch their definitions of “who belongs” to the community and provide more assistance to those communities on the “other side of the tracks.”

Angie Moe

Professor of Sociology at Western Michigan University
Angie Moe
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

It may, but is not a clear cause of long-term issues. To the extent that poverty is associated with poorer health (nutrition, access to medical care, access to safe housing, etc.), children may face long term consequences in their overall well-being. We are learning more about the connections between early childhood experiences and adult functioning and it is a dire mistake to think that children are immune to the effects (or correlated effects, as indicated above) of poverty and the environments in which they are raised. This is not to say that childhood poverty is a total determinant of long-term consequences. Plenty of successful adults were raised in relative poverty. There are many mitigating circumstances, particularly those related to familial/social support and safety.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

No. Children seem to be an invisible and neglected demographic. As mentioned above, it seems children are seen as being immune (or quickly adaptable/resilient) to their environments. However it is clear that what happens to their parents or to others around them has a deleterious effect. In other words, mounting evidence indicates that children are products of their environments. Children are supported when their parents or other caregivers are supported. Educational funding, health care, and income subsidies are all part of this. One of the positive movements in this regard has been greater support for early education programming which can greatly enhance the intellectual capacities (and later vocational possibilities and financial security) of underprivileged children.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Related to the above, education is paramount. The earlier children can access a structured, age appropriate, learning environment with comprehensive (wraparound services), as needed, such as well-child care, free and reduced meals, and psycho-social counseling/support, the better their odds of overcoming the deleterious effects of poverty. The higher the recognition and support of early education amongst families and communities, the better the future possibilities for children. Families and communities need to recognize the “it takes a village” sentiment to raising children. The U.S. is largely an individualistic culture where people don’t reach out for help, or believe their role is to help others. We have to get over this when it comes to children. The greater the number of safe nurturing adults in a child’s life, the better that child’s chances are of growing up with a firm sense of identity and confidence.

Christi Bamford

Assistant Professor of Psychology at Jacksonville University
Christi Bamford
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Unfortunately, yes. Living in poverty relates to all aspects of development, whether physical, social, emotional, or cognitive. The research evidence for this has been building for decades, and now we are even finding physical brain differences in those who are exposed to poverty in childhood. The good news is that all of these effects can be mediated by interventions at the level of the child, the parent, and the community.

When talking about poverty, we need to remember that it isn’t just one thing. It’s a myriad of factors that have both individual and community effects, and these effects are also cumulative well into adulthood. Let’s take academic success as an example:

Children growing up in poverty tend to have poor nutrition. This affects brain development, the ability to sleep, and the ability to concentrate in school. Children in low income households also tend to have fewer educational resources at home, such as books or adults reading to them, and as a result their vocabularies and other pre-literacy skills are lower than children in other households. If the local school does not have the resources to address these special needs, kindergarten will be far more difficult for these children.

Think about the cumulative effects of these factors alone: If you are not prepared for kindergarten and have trouble concentrating, you are going to be behind when you get to first grade. If you have the same problems in first grade, and nothing changes in your nutrition level and the level of support you are receiving at home or in the classroom, you are going to even further behind in second grade. If you are behind in elementary school and still nothing changes, you will be behind in middle school and high school. If you don’t do well in high school, your chances are lower of getting into college, of getting a scholarship that helps you to afford college, and of succeeding once you are in college.

In our society, education is the gateway to success. Without it, it is difficult to break the cycle of poverty. We need interventions at every level of education to help these children overcome these barriers to success, so that the same amount of effort on their part leads to the same amount of success it would for another student.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

The short answer is no, and interventions need to focus on support at the level of the community, the family, and the child. Legislatures need to direct funding toward programs that meet these needs and listen to communities when they express a new need or concern. They also need to work on shifting public opinion about the origins and effects of poverty.

Public opinion often blames parents for their children’s behavioral and academic problems, but we need to look at the whole picture. Families who live in poverty are under a great deal of stress. Parents are worried about paying their bills, buying food, and keeping their children safe, and often they do not have the emotional, social, or educational resources to respond to them in ideal ways. These parents love their children as much as the next parent, but the stresses of poverty are real for every member of the household. A stressed parent of any income level is going to have less patience and energy to be nurturing than one who is less stressed, and raising children in poverty is incredibly stressful. Communities need to come together and support these parents whenever possible by listening to their needs and concerns, offering help with child care, and helping them to navigate the resources available to them.

Often these parents have limited education themselves, so their ability to help children with literacy skills or homework is difficult, even if they had the time and emotional energy to invest in it. For example, when we look at the conversations low income parents have with their kindergarteners, they tend to be less rich in vocabulary, less elaborative (e.g., asking yes or no questions instead of a more elaborative response), and they tend to contain more negative commands and rebukes (“No.” “Don’t.” “Stop that.”) and fewer affirmations. These parents are less likely to read to their children, and they have fewer books and other educational resources to offer their children. Each of these factors relates to children’s emotional, social, and academic outcomes. Resources aimed at improving the education of parents, teaching them about child development, and helping them find work that earns a livable wage, will all go a long way in improving child outcomes.

Low income families are also more likely to live in low income neighborhoods, which are often less safe and have fewer resources, such as libraries or even neighbors who are available to help with child care or homework. Historically, these neighborhoods have also had lower quality schools. At school, children who are stressed have more behavioral problems than other children, in addition to the special physical, cognitive, and emotional needs that they bring to the classroom. When you have a school full of children who have these extra needs, this puts more stress on the teachers and on the other children. Thus, these schools and communities need more resources than schools and communities in other areas, but the opposite is more often the case.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

We need to take a whole family approach to poverty. There is a non-profit in Albany, Georgia called the Family Literacy Connection, which is a good example of this, and it happens to be run by my aunt, Sandy Bamford. They administer adult education classes to help parents get their GEDs, and they provide tutoring and resources to help them toward whatever their next educational step needs to be. They also offer parenting classes and after school care, in addition to helping children with their academic needs. I can get you in touch with her, as I am sure she would be happy to speak with you about the successes and needs of her program.

We need more programs like these, and we need more support for the programs that already exist, both at a financial level and at a volunteer level.

Crystal C. Hall

Assistant Professor of Public Affairs at University of Washington, Evans School of Public Affairs and Governance
Crystal C. Hall
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

While it is hard to draw a clear and descriptive causal link, we certainly know that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to experience negative life outcomes in adulthood. Social science researchers now seem to be putting more effort into understanding this relationship, in order to best describe interventions and approaches to mitigate this tendency.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

I think that elected officials can do more, in two specific ways. First, they can acknowledge and work to improve the disparity in support and resources that more relatively advantaged families have over the less advantaged. One great attempt to do this is seen in cities that offer universal Pre-K. Funding these types of initiatives can work to improve early education, which can make a large difference for underprivileged kids who might not otherwise have access. In addition, elected officials can actively work to facilitate dialogue between researchers, policymakers, and practitioners on the research findings in these areas. This could improve efforts of all of these stakeholders and they approach these issues from their distinct perspectives.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Two approaches that families can take are active engagement in their broad communities and conscious steps to educate themselves about the institutional and social barriers that some families take. In Washington Stage, for example, we suffer from the most regressive tax system in the country. Our poorest families pay the largest percentage of their income in taxes - creating a huge financial on individual families. More broadly, this has an impact on our ability to fund adequate education across the state. Families can learn about issues such as these, and put pressure on their lawmakers to implement policy solutions to these issues.

Kathleen Dyer

Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Child, Family, and Consumer Sciences at California State University, Fresno
Kathleen Dyer
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Decades of research suggest that the financial security of child's home life is perhaps the strongest predictor of their educational and financial outcomes in adulthood. This is somewhat discouraging for those of us who work to provide parent education and other interventions for poor families. But on the other hand, policy implications are clear: providing financial security for poor families is the best way to help children in those families. Some longitudinal studies have been conducted documenting just how very powerful the effect of childhood poverty is on kids.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Child poverty has been rising in recent decades. We are getting close to the 25% mark again (25% of all US children living in poverty), which is where we were before the gains made by the War on Poverty in the 60's and 70's. Starting in the 80s, with diminishing economic programs, the rate has been creeping upward steadily. So no, we are not doing enough to help poor children. Basically, they need not to be poor. Their parents need better paying jobs. They need affordable child care to allow them to work. They need health insurance so that one crisis does not send them into a lifetime of debt and poverty. And they need to have access to good quality schools.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Parents can mitigate the effects of poverty (but honestly, not very much) by providing warm and sensitive caregiving. Kids do better with a secure attachment with a caregiver, regardless of the challenges they face. The community can mitigate effects of poverty in the ways I described in #2...a higher minimum wage, health care, affordable child care, and more equity in the public school system.

Fadhel Kaboub

Associate Professor of Economics at Denison University, and President of The Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity
Fadhel Kaboub
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Yes, absolutely. Poverty affects children before they are even born. Prenatal care is just as important as early childhood growth and development. Expecting mothers who live in poverty often experience stressful pregnancies if they have to work long hours to make ends meet. They may not be able to afford prenatal vitamins, healthy food options, and access to prenatal medical care. And when children live in poverty, they don't necessary have access to healthy food, preventative medical care, physical and mental development support, early childhood development opportunities, and stress-free living environment. In short, the negative health and developmental effects of poverty are set in motion even before children start school. Those effects are then compounded through the school system, and finally materialize during adulthood in terms of lower educational attainments, lower paying jobs, lower productivity levels, higher unemployment rates, and poor health conditions.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Unfortunately, most elected officials now operate under the spell of gloom and doom economics and are increasingly embracing fiscal austerity much to the detriment of the economy as a whole and underprivileged children, in particular. Significant cuts in fiscal spending are increasingly affecting support for low income families in the form of food stamps, low income housing support, public education, public health, public infrastructure, after-school programs, and support for youth in general.

What policymakers need to realize is that fiscal cuts of this kind don't create any "savings" per se, because their long-term effects are devastating both for underprivileged communities and for the US economy as a whole. We need to invest in people so we can harness their creativity, ingenuity, and productivity. We need to stop worrying about the US government's deficit and national debt because as a financially sovereign nation, we can afford anything that is for sale in U.S. dollars. Instead, we need to worry about the excessively high consumer debt, income inequality, the jobs deficit, the public infrastructure deficit, and the public health deficit.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

As government support to low-income families continues to decline, the only remaining option for low-income families (excluding support from extended family members) is support from charitable organizations. However, many charitable organizations suffer from sever budget cuts during economic downturns, right when their services are needed the most. As a result, we are increasingly seeing a new wave of complementary community support systems in the form of community currencies, community gardens, and even community-based barter. These parallel economic systems emerge in order to fill the void left by the federal and state governments and are extremely important for many communities around the world. However, these systems cannot replace the role of the national government when it comes to public infrastructure and other long-term/costly investment projects.

Heather Downs

Assistant Professor of Sociology at Jacksonville University
Heather Downs
Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Social scientists have found that some social programs have effectively combatted some of the effects of poverty on children. Food assistance programs such as WIC or free breakfast/lunch programs prevent many children from starving or being underfed. By some counts, 1 in 5 kids in the United States is food insecure which means that they are not eating enough or do not know when they will receive their next meal. While we know these programs are effective in fighting childhood hunger, they are often limited and politically viewed as controversial. Continued financial support for these programs will prevent millions of children from feeling the physical effects of hunger.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

As a society we need a paradigm shift in how we view children living in poverty. We tend to view impoverished people as individuals who are poor because of choices they have made or actions they have not taken. A large portion of impoverished people are children under the age of 18 who have yet to make an adult choice. Sociologists who study the movement of individuals out of poverty and into the middle class or higher have found that education is the key defining life chance. Sociologists, economists and others have found that the more educated someone is, the less likely they are to live in poverty. Having an educational system in place which encourages high school completion, advanced vocational training or college attendance will provide a platform for many children to move out of poverty.

Sara Harkness

Director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Health and Human Development, and Professor of Human Development, Pediatrics, and Public Health at University of Connecticut
Sara Harkness
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Being raised in poverty does have lasting consequences for children in adulthood, although some individuals who experienced poverty in childhood are able and become successful in later life. Poverty affects children in at least three areas: 1) Poorer nutrition and health care; 2) Educational deficits at school and at home; 3) Multiple stressors in the family and in the neighborhood.

Children in poverty may not receive regular or nutritious meals, due to an overburdened family budget and the lack of good grocery stores within reach (the “food desert” phenomenon). Although some children may benefit from health care programs designed for their needs, many do not have access to such programs either because they are not locally available or because of other difficulties such as getting to a health care facility without a car or not being able to take time from work to care for a sick child.

Educational deficits occur when children are not able to attend good quality early childhood care and education programs (e.g., Head Start, which serves only a small proportion of the children who qualify in some areas), or when families move frequently, thus requiring children to adapt to multiple new schools. Homeless children are at a particular disadvantage because they lack many of the basic requirements for successful education such as adequate nutrition and rest and a place to study. Families in poverty may not be able to sustain helpful educational practices such as reading to their child on a regular basis, even if they are aware that this would help their child.

Children living in poverty are often also exposed to multiple stressors, including family instability, dangerous neighborhoods dominated by gangs who often recruit young boys, and the effects of their parents’ frequent job losses and changes. Each of these aspects of poverty in childhood can have lasting negative effects.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Some elected officials are very aware of the importance of addressing issues of children in poverty, but many others do not seem to place a high priority on the needs of these children, as we have seen repeatedly over the past few years. The lack of a strong political consensus about addressing the needs of these children (who now make up about 20% of the entire child population in the U.S.) is detrimental not only to the children themselves but also to the nation as a whole.

Programs to improve the welfare of children in poverty have included nutrition programs (e.g., WIC, Food Stamps), health programs (e.g., the Husky health program in Connecticut), early care and education programs (e.g., Head Start, Zero to Three, or universal preschool as proposed by President Obama), housing programs (e.g., Title 8), and even programs to move families in poverty out to safer neighborhoods with better schools and more employment opportunities for parents (e.g., the Moving to Opportunity program). Although none of these programs alone can solve the problems of children in poverty, when integrated they can have far greater effects. Unfortunately, in some areas we have actually seen reductions in funding for programs whose benefits have already been demonstrated. In other cases, new programs are launched without sufficient understanding of the local contexts.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is particularly apt in relation to children in poverty. Families of these children often do not have the resources – whether material or in the form of “social capital” - to deal with problems that many middle class families could more easily solve (for example, getting a broken windshield replaced on their car, or accessing special services for their child at school). Unfortunately, many families in poverty are either isolated from relatives and friends, or they live surrounded by other people in similar circumstances who may actually make their lives more stressful (e.g., relatives who need housing for a period of time).

Community-based services, bringing larger programs down to scale in local neighborhoods and integrating them such that families do not need to go from one service to another would be very helpful for families in poverty. At the household level, home visiting programs that empower parents to feel more self-confident and make better use of their own inner and external resources can also have a transforming effect. A common observation on such programs is that more continuity across the years from infancy to childhood and adolescence is needed. Unlike machines, families cannot simply be “fixed” and stay that way; thus early childhood intervention programs are unlikely to have lasting effects, especially if the intervention is only focused on the child apart from the family. Even so, without more of the kinds of external resources that the rest of us take for granted, families in poverty, and their children, will continue to experience disadvantage in multiple domains.

Sandy Bamford

Executive Director at Family Literacy Connection
Sandy Bamford
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Absolutely - thought patterns, social interactions, cognitive strategies, etc. that we learn as children go with all of us into adulthood. This is especially significant for children raised in poverty. Qualities of people living in generational poverty make it very difficult for them to escape poverty. The primary method of learning is modeling. Therefore, children in poverty model the behavior of their parents and the people they are around. Children learn to think, speak, and act as someone living in poverty. That is why it is so much easier for a person from situational poverty to escape than a person from generational poverty. Individuals find themselves in situational poverty because of some life event. They continue to have the knowledge and skills of middle class and therefore are able to find their way out of poverty. People from generational poverty lack the knowledge and resources to escape.

A real deficit generally for people raised in poverty is vocabulary. Hart & Risely in “The Early Catastrophe” noted that children from affluence knew 30 million more words at age 3 than children raised in poverty. Since reading development begins with vocabulary, by age 3, children in poverty are far behind their more affluent classmates. Add to this poor homes with no books or reading materials to expose children to words and you have a child entering school without much of a chance. This carries through elementary, middle and in to high school, where an inordinate number of youth from poverty choose to drop out.

According to Rubye Payne's work on the culture of poverty, an important consideration is the hidden rules of class. We all learn acceptable behavior for the class we are raised in. This works fine for children raised in middle class because all of our institutions operate with middle class values. But for a child raised in poverty, school environments, work environments, and government agency environments are most difficult because they have not learned the hidden rules. Individuals in middle class value hard work, education, planning for the future and managing money. Individuals from poverty live in the here and now, education is abstract and money is to be spent. Many times, poverty values conflict with a middle class work environment and make stability in employment difficult for the person raised in poverty.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Over the last few years, funding has improved and there seems to be a greater emphasis on funding for early childhood education. Funding has increased for home visitation programs for families with children birth to 3. Birth to 3 is where the biggest difference can be made and where our focus needs to be. However, the needs are so great and we are not anywhere close to services being available to the many families in poverty.

Since 2002, I have operated a Family Literacy program in Albany, Georgia called Family Literacy Connection. Our programs take a holistic approach for the family, providing educational training for adults and children, parenting training, Parent and Child Together (PACT), and home visits from certified parent educators. We remove barriers that prevent parents from being able to participate in program services. A licensed child development center occupies the same building with the adult education and GED Preparation classes allowing parents to bring their children with them and to feel comfortable with their care. Lack of childcare is the number one reason given for our families dropping out of high school. Families earn public transit passes to attend program activities. An incentive program allows parents to earn needed items that cannot be purchased with food stamps. Parent Educators assist families further by connecting them to community resources to meet other family needs.

The Family Literacy approach is very relational. Parent Educators go into the homes and develop trusting relationships with families. The positive interactions over the time a family is engaged gives the family important tools to build a stable, successful, satisfying life. Having support is vital to families going through struggles. The support and connection to resources lets a family know that they are not alone. It gives them hope when a parent has hope and a support system they are able to be more supportive of their children and the outcomes for children are improved. Parents gaining an understanding of their child’s development is vital to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. The number one reason that children are abused is unrealistic expectations. Parents as Teachers, our home visitation program, gives parents the knowledge and the tools for understanding and supporting their child’s development.

Over the years, our approach to serving families has helped many families gain employment, stability, and success. Elected officials would do well to help struggling families with programs such as family literacy that have a broad base of support for families. Helping parents gain stability and self-sufficiency with adult education and parenting programs breaks the cycle for the next generation. The Department of Human Services provides funding for childcare that is very important for parents to be able to improve the conditions for their families. Giving more latitude to this legislation to allow parents to gain education would be a good step. At the present time, only parents under 20 can receive childcare reimbursements for education.

In Georgia, Bright From the Start Department of Early Care & Learning provides technical support and incentives to childcare providers and centers to improve childcare. This is where we need to focus attention, because the early years is when the greatest learning takes place. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

In Albany, we have an initiative called Strive2Thrive. It pairs families from poverty with middle class families that mentor the family. Everything in life comes from relationship. As people in poverty get to know people in middle class and develop relationships, families in poverty benefit. They get to know people who employ people and friends of people who are employers. They learn the rules of middle class that can help them to be successful in the workplace. Community programs such as this, greatly benefit children living in a culture of poverty.

Initiatives that put books in the hands of poor children and families is a great benefit. Befriending a family in poverty is a great way to make a difference. Showing respect for the poor makes their lives so much better. So often, they face disdain everywhere they go; kindness opens the door for developing a relationship and making a difference.

Lauren G. Fasig Caldwell

Director of the Children, Youth & Families Office at The American Psychological Association
Lauren G. Fasig Caldwell
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Yes, research shows that persistent poverty in childhood can have numerous effects that last well into adulthood. Many of the effects build on each other. For example, children living in poverty may have low academic achievement, and are at greater risk for school drop-out. Not surprisingly, then, research also shows risk for lower earnings and lower productivity for children raised in poverty.

Children living in poverty experience negative outcomes across all domains of development- physical, cognitive, emotional and social. These children may have weakened immune systems, chronic health issues such as anemia, asthma, and obesity, and changes in brain development. They may experience delayed or difficulty in learning language, memory difficulties, and decreased focus or concentration. They may have poor self-regulation of emotion or poor impulse control. Socially, the may experience peer rejection, behave aggressively, or see other’s actions as hostile. These are just examples of outcomes we see in the research that are related to being raised in poverty.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

There are a range of actions that work to support resilience in families and children living in poverty. Raising the minimum wage can help reduce food and housing insecurity and improve the resources available to families. Other actions include increased funding to the Social Services Block Grant, which funds the states to fill gaps in services to children, older adults and people with disabilities; increased access to and improved quality of child-care, flexible work schedules, increased low-income tax credits; increased access to mental health care; and improved SNAP benefits.

Many of the factors linked to poor outcomes for children living in poverty can be improved through social policies and programs. Factors such as environmental toxins, poor nutrition, maternal depression, unsafe neighborhoods, and low quality child-care are all malleable, and improvements have been shown to make a difference for child outcomes.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

The research points to a number of environmental factors that may drive the effects we see from poverty, such as food and housing insecurity, unstable and dangerous neighborhoods, and community violence. However, it is also clear that poverty effects are also driven by the on-going stress experienced when living in poverty. The stress is often present throughout the child’s environment – the child experiences many stressors, as do the parents, neighbors and community. So, an important pathway for mitigating the negative effects of poverty is to reduce the stress in the child’s environment and very importantly, to increase the child’s resilience.

Simple things can serve as protective factors and build children’s resilience. Establishing family routines to provide consistent structure to the child’s day; talking, reading and singing regularly with your child to provide closeness and build communication skills; and playing games that help your child develop self-control are things all parents can do with their children.

Neighbors can help each other by forming relationships and getting to know one another. Connectedness itself helps, but these relationships may also uncover untapped resources and support networks that can be essential to families living in poverty.

Community resources need to be more visible. Parents can take advantage of free programming at libraries, engage in activities offered by the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, and other organizations that support families. Although these things may all seem very simple, they work to help alleviate the stress associated with poverty and to provide resources that strengthen children’s and families’ resilience.

APA has developed a Tip Tool for parents to help them identify ways to build resilience in their children. The Tip Tool can be accessed here.

Megan Smith

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Child Study and Public Health at the Yale University School of Medicine
Megan Smith
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Poverty in childhood has enduring effects into adulthood. The negative effects of economic deprivation childhood tend to accumulate such that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to live in poverty as adults and more likely to have a lower quality of health and social functioning in adulthood. Specifically one study found that children who experience poverty before the age of nine are at higher risk of developing behavioral disorders, chronic diseases, and even premature death.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

Unfortunately, safety net programs aimed at keeping children from living in poverty in the U.S. are underfunded, having not kept up with inflation and/or reduced due to financial cuts.

While there are many safety net programs that are meant to support low income children, none support the full scope of basic needs, such as diapers. For example, most subsidized child care centers require parents to provide a full days supply of diapers for their child - if the parents cannot afford diapers, they can miss work.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

First and foremost is to recognize the growing body of scientific research on the impact of toxic stress on brain development of young children. Living in poverty causes toxic stress.

Secondly, a wide array of policies and programs can assist children in poverty. Aside from large federal programs that support children in the areas of food, shelter and healthcare, community providers can provide referrals and support to organizations that focus on addressing the basic needs of children, such as the National Diaper Bank Network which works to get clean diapers to babies in need.

Furthermore, social service and healthcare providers can undergo training in basic needs-informed care such as the new curriculum developed by the experts at MOMs Partnership and the National Diaper Bank Network. Simple, yet often overlooked, questions can be asked of parents living in poverty...such as do you have money for cleaning supplies, soap and shampoo, feminine hygiene products, and/or diapers.

Enhancing the economic security and success of parents is a necessary step communities can take to reducing the percent of children who live in poverty.

C. Damien Arthur

Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy at Marshall University
C. Damien Arthur
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

I am not sure I could say that ‘lasting consequences’ precludes one from transcending the effects of poverty once in adulthood. I was raised in a very difficult place to live in West Virginia. Seventy percent of the country is easier to live than the county wherein I grew up. Oddly and against the wishes of family, I left for college at 19 and did fairly well, graduating magna cum laude from Boston University’s School of Theology. I was the first in my family to attend and graduate from college, breaking a very long cycle. I do believe that I faced challenges that my more affluent peers did not. I guess I am just more stubborn than most.

The educational environment in West Virginia is dismal, as nearly one-third of those learners who enroll in college need a remedial math course, nearly one-fifth need a remedial English course, and only one quarter of them scored at the benchmark on the ACT college readiness exam, according to the WV Higher Education Policy Commission. These characteristics ensure that every other state in the Union has a more educated population. According to the Census Bureau, West Virginia ranks 50th for bachelor’s degree attainment with only 17.3% of the population possessing this degree, which is severely below the national average of 30.4%. Yet, the data is somewhat clear; it is difficult for those in poverty to succeed in traditional avenues that cultivate successful adulthoods, such as college degree completion. For instance, there was research published that equated living in poverty to a reduction in IQ by 13 points. Moreover, some research suggests that those living in poverty have physiologically altered brains, wherein the temporal and occipital lobes are larger in more wealthy children. Nevertheless, with the appropriate resources, I believe these children can succeed.

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

There has been a great deal of discussion about poverty in our civil discourse lately, which is mostly encouraging. Much of the discussion, however, is not helpful or productive. For instance, a Wall Street Journal editor said that workers learn from poverty, when discussing whether or not to raise the minimum wage. Also, Republicans such as Rand Paul have argued that poverty wages are ‘tough love’ that must be accepted. Again, a GOP vice chair in Arizona said the poor should only be given a 15lb bag of rice, powdered milk, and subsequently sterilized.

Yet, there are some productive statements from consequential leaders. Pope Francis has recently said, “today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” He has also appointed new Cardinals, who have focused upon poverty, signaling the apparent ‘new’ direction of the Church.

President Reagan’s narrative of the ‘Welfare Queens in Cadillac’s’ seems to be dominating, currently. We can see this in society’s response to the poor. When individuals see a person they presume to be poor or even in poverty at any point, they completely dehumanize that person. In fact, there is a physiological response in the brain associated with the dehumanization. The poor are immediately not equal to the not-poor and presumed to be in need of something, something a poor person obviously does not deserve or would have ‘worked hard’ and acquired it already. As the CEO of Bayer said, we create drugs for “western patients who can afford them.” People are utterly repulsed by poverty and even try to imprison them. Or, society has endorsed a T.V. show wherein we are supposed to be entertained by poor people competing with each other over just enough money that their lives would be dramatically improved. Instead of just helping these families we force them to prove to the country that they are worthy of not being poor. As opined by Nicholas Kristof, there seems to be no compassion or empathy for the poor. In fact, some have argued that society is simply trying to overmedicate those in poverty, as to not have to deal with them.

We need to talk about the poor in a different manner and frame the narrative better. Blaming the poor and requiring them to prove their value to society is not helpful or productive. The narrative that claims poverty is a choice or a matter of will is patently false. There is so much more to poverty than choices. Poverty is the classic case of blaming the victim. People do not choose poverty. No person who truly understands poverty, the psychology of poverty, or the perpetual consequences of poverty for them and their descendants would ever choose to be poor. Being poor is not a matter of will or lack of will. Every poor person would choose to be anything but poor if it were that simple. Only someone who knows nothing of poverty would claim that the lack of will is why people are poor. There are externalities and systemic and structural barriers that create incredibly complex environments. There is no easy solution to the problem.

Yet, I think we can and should work together to reduce the burden of poverty. I don’t have all the answers, but I think we should continue to have a productive conversation. The reviewer comments a colleague of mine received on a rejected grant that would have funded measures to increase science knowledge in WV offers insight into what we should not do. The reviewer said, and I paraphrase obviously, “WV is a prime candidate for our money and the program you propose. However, giving you the money would be tantamount to throwing a grain of sand into the ocean.” We need to acknowledge that the problem is vast and that there are individuals that abuse the system, make terrible life decisions, and yet still embrace the notion that the resources for those suffocating under poverty’s grasp are necessary and benefit society.

Antonio Garcia

Assistant Professor and Co-director of the Child Well-being & Child Welfare Specialization (CW2) in the School of Social Policy & Practice at University of Pennsylvania
Antonio Garcia
Does being raised in poverty have lasting consequences for children in adulthood?

Research shows that children who grow up in poverty are significantly more likely to experience poverty in early and middle adulthood than those who were never poor (Wagmiller & Adelman, 2009). The rates of adult poverty increase exponentially as the duration of time in poverty increase during childhood. African American and Latino adults are disproportionately more likely to experience poverty and are more likely to be poor as adults (Wagmiller & Adelman, 2009; Delgado, 2009).

Childhood poverty and the number of inter-related co-occurring public health concerns make it difficult to escape poverty as adults. While studies document the strong relationship between childhood poverty and poverty in adulthood, there are a number of other mediating factors that may positively or negatively influence socio-economic mobility. Some of these factors include communities entrenched in violence and drug use, neighborhood poverty, quality of educational environment, chronic stress as a result of struggling to meet daily needs, lack of access to and availability of community resources in poor neighborhoods, maternal health and well-being, parenting, quality of the parent-child relationship, and peer mentoring (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997).

My own research has shown that the aforementioned risk factors associated with poverty increase the likelihood of child maltreatment, especially for youth and families of color (Garcia, 2009). The long-lasting, detrimental impacts of abuse on adult developmental outcomes are well documented. In a study conducted with my colleagues, for example, we found that nearly 30% of adults formerly placed in foster care providing more intensive one-on-one services from caseworkers and foster parents were still unemployed. Furthermore, 15% had no high school diploma or GED and 45% suffered from a psychiatric disorder (Garcia, et al. 2011). Increased likelihood of unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, and engagement in delinquent acts further increase the poverty pipeline among adults who have been maltreated (Courtney & Dworsky, 2006; Pecora et al., 2006).

Are elected officials placing a sufficiently high priority on the needs of underprivileged children? What can they do to improve the welfare of children in poverty?

I think this largely depends on who the elected officials are, and what they and their constituents perceive are needs and priorities. When, in rare cases, the needs of underprivileged children are prioritized, the decision on how best to allocate those resources and funds are not informed by the best available evidence. We need to allocate funding, based upon what the needs in the community are, and implement rigorous research and evaluation studies that will guide decision-making. Taking the extra step to disseminate and interpret findings and help policy-makers make sense of how to use research will go a long way to effectively and efficiently improve conditions of under-privileged children.

How can families and communities mitigate the negative effects of poverty on children?

Mitigating the effects of poverty is possible if families, communities, and systems of care (child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, and social services) are willing and able to communicate and collaborate with one another. All too often, systems and communities work and operate in silos, often due to strict bureaucratic procedures and policies. This only serves to increase the number of other public health concerns associated with growing up in poverty. Consequently, many of our vulnerable citizens are involved in multiple systems of care, eating up our funding and resources. We need to develop data sharing agreements and allocate sufficient funding for the dissemination and implementation of resources and evidence-based interventions that mitigate risk for poverty and the number of co-occurring negative social conditions (noted above) related to growing up in poverty.

Methodology

In order to assess the living and economic conditions of young people across the nation, WalletHub ranked the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia in terms of three key dimensions, including 1) Early Foundations & Economic Well-Being, 2) Health and 3) Education. We then compiled 15 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights.

Early Foundations & Economic Well-Being – Total Weight: 10

  • Percentage of Children in Foster Care: Full Weight
  • Percentage of Children in Single-Parent Families: Full Weight
  • Percentage of Children Living with Grandparents Responsible for them with No Parent in the Home: Full Weight
  • Percentage of Children in Households with Below-Poverty Income: Full Weight
  • Ratio of Children Living in Renter-Occupied Housing Units to Children Living in Owner-Occupied Housing Units: Half Weight
  • Economic Mobility: Full Weight
  • Number of Homeless Persons in Families per 100,000 Population: Full Weight

Health – Total Weight: 5

  • Percentage of Children Lacking Health Insurance Coverage: Full Weight
  • Percentage of Maltreated Children: Full Weight
  • Child Food-Insecurity Rate: Full Weight
  • Infant-Death Rate per 1,000 Births: Full Weight
  • Child-Death Rate per 100,000 Population: Full Weight

Education – Total Weight: 5

  • Public High School Graduation Rate: Full Weight
  • WalletHub “Best School Systems” Ranking: Full Weight
  • Percentage of Teens Aged 16 to 19 Not Attending School and Not Working: Full Weight

 

Sources: Data used to create these rankings were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - Administration for Children and Families, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Center for Educational Statistics, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Equality of Opportunity Project, the Kids Count - Anney E. Casey Foundation, Feeding America and WalletHub research.

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Richie Bernardo is a personal finance writer at WalletHub. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a minor in business from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Previously, he was a…
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