This is what poverty looks like on a child.

imagesIn the last decade or so, researchers have started looking at the effect poverty has on a child. The New Yorker has one of the best things I’ve read lately on the topic, right here. The author,  Madeline Ostrander, writes about the neurotoxin, poverty:

As it turns out, the conditions that attend poverty—what a National Scientific Council report summarized as “overcrowding, noise, substandard housing, separation from parent(s), exposure to violence, family turmoil,” and other forms of extreme stress—can be toxic to the developing brain, just like drug or alcohol abuse. These conditions provoke the body to release hormones such as cortisol, which is produced in the adrenal cortex. Brief bursts of cortisol can help a person manage difficult situations, but high stress over the long term can be disastrous. In a pregnant woman, the hormone can “get through the placenta into the fetus,” Levitt told me, potentially influencing her baby’s brain and tampering with its circuitry. Later, as the same child grows up, cortisol from his own body may continue to sabotage the development of his brain.

This cries out for more study, doesn’t it? Can we all agree that we can’t allow poverty to interrupt the development of children? Can we at least agree on that?

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Just another one of God's children.

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  1. No problem here…but then…
    –we have to agree that we are allowing poverty to negatively impact child development…
    –we have to agree that in order to ameliorate such negative impact on children, we have to do the same for parents…
    –we have to agree on what poverty is…because the formula being used to calculate FPL hasn’t changed since the 60s…
    –we have to agree that investing in future child development, and amelioration of such current negative impact, is important enough to demand consistent and reliable government $upport…

    So good luck with that…because…when it comes to our children…we suck.

  2. It sure does. I agree with taking steps to not let poverty (or other forms of childhood chronic stress – like physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, or neighborhood violence) interrupt the development of children.

    It also cries out for action to prevent harm to children, as much as possible. All the proof in the world will not move some people to care about this. Sociopaths don’t care. Hopefully, with enough publicity, these studies will enlighten enough people to care enough to support action. We already know enough to take action, I think. I recall learning about some of the effects of chronic stress on the developing brain back in nursing school, and being shocked at what I heard. (How could this not be a reason to do more to protect kids, I wondered?)

    I also saw this recent study:

    Poverty isn’t good for anyone. Has anyone attempted to develop a comprehensive plan to address these issues, I wonder? How do we end poverty and stop child abuse? I wonder if anyone has researched and analyzed this in depth and attempted to develop alternative, comprehensive, reasonable solutions. For me, I am ready to move from raising awareness to getting it done. Dammit.

    1. I’m sorry this is so late. My mail was down and didn’t know it.

      I don’t think we can end poverty. Certainly not under existing Capitalism. Doubtful even under Socialism. (I would like to see that study expanded to other countries with different economic systems and welfare state programs, though.)

      What we can do…right now…is adopt, or reinvigorate, welfare state policies that work to ameliorate toxic stress associated with poverty.

      Start with universal healthcare. Moving past all the obvious benefits of removing the middleman filtering all healthcare decisions through an agenda totally unrelated to healthcare, and consider just the economic benefit to real household incomes in a progressively financed, publicly funded, privately delivered nonprofit healthcare system. Load up this PDF, go to page 6, figure 2, and look at how much real money could be put back into the pockets of lower income households. Pretty much everybody’s pockets, actually. Except for the top 5%.

      Other welfare state policies…secure housing…food security…public education…public transportation…jobs…would go a long way to reducing toxic stress associated with poverty.

      I know…I know: How to pay for all this?

      Progressive taxation. Which the fans of plutocracy would say is unfair to the wealthy. The fix for that is full employment and wages…increasing the labor share of productivity. See the charts I linked to in this thread, or examine EPI data aggregates on wage stagnation and actual wage decline. Just since 2009. It’s abysmal. Allowing labor an equitable share of productivity, utilizing progressive taxation, vigorous and sustainable welfare state policies could be realized. Without Socialism!!! (In fact…the guys who thought up the welfare state did it to abate the spread of Socialism in 19th century Europe. FDR took the hint and established the New Deal here.)

      Most Americans would support all this. The problem is our political system doesn’t represent most Americans anymore. We’re like cattle being herded to market by a few wranglers working for somebody else. Until that changes, progress will remain token at best. (Enter Socialism.)

      On child abuse: Unfortunately…we’re human. As we’ve seen, child abuse is not unique to lower income groups. It can be exacerbated by stress associated with poverty, but we’re always going to have to deal with that kind of evil.

      1. I guess we keep chipping away as we have been doing. I would like to think there would be enough interest to at least save the kids from harm.

        1. No. Chipping away as we have been doing isn’t working. In fact, it’s making things worse. Look at the data. Reformism…doing the same thing over and over again and settling for only token progress…is what has to change. Running around in circles doesn’t get us down the road.

          Consider Housing First. That initiative represents substantive change in our traditional approach to the problem of homelessness. And it’s working. Communities are adopting it because it effectively removes the moral arguments from the equation. It uses available resources in a common sense way that reduces waste and ineffectiveness. It’s an economic argument. An argument that everybody can agree on.

          Universal healthcare. Substantive change. Economic measures that improve the conditions of working people without dividing them into separate groups forced to compete, continually, for the same token reforms that never seem to be quite adequate for anything except increasing the need for more token reforms.

          Reformism is a cancer. Incrementalism is no cure. Change…substantive change…is our only hope for true progress.

          1. Good point. Change is hard and feels risky for some, even with supporting data. It takes courageous, strong leadership to make substantive change. We need people willing to take the leap. I don’t see those kinds of leaders ahead for 2016. I’m afraid Hillary might be more of the same, and extra cautious as a first time female President. We do need someone that could shake things up and get things done. Who would that be, do you think?

            1. You. That’s where it has to start. Ground up.
              We have to stop settling for “close enough for government work.” We need to build new leadership outside the “lesser evil” corruption inherent in national politics. That has to start at the local level. Waiting for the old guard…professional politicians…to respond isn’t going to get the job done.

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