Welcome to Day 16 of #30PostsHathSept. [PLEASE READ all my other challenge posts HERE.] Today is a serious post about a topic that is deeply important to me.
Suppose there is a disease that:
- Affects 46.7 million people living in the U.S. (1 in 7 people)
- Affects 16 million children (1 in 4 children)
- Affects 1/6 of all births (2/5 of all black births)
- Will affect 40% of all children at some point in their childhood
- Negatively affects brain development
- Is found clustered in many communities across the U.S.
- Makes affected individuals three times as susceptible to chronic health diseases
- Lowers life expectancy by at least 10-15 years
- Costs an estimated $500 billion per year
Would we demand an immediate treatment? Would it make the evening news each night? Would it trend on Twitter?
Would it matter if I said this disease has been among us for a very very long time?
There is such a disease – That dis-ease is POVERTY.
Poverty is widely prevalent across the U.S. The Brookings Institute reports that 70% of the most distressed communities ( the communities where >40% of residents living there are living in poverty) are found in the 100 largest metropolitan regions.
While we often think of the poor living in urban areas, the grip of poverty has no borders. Even regions like Silicon Valley, considered wealthy by usual standards, also experiences poverty.
The Urban Institute, founded by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to fight poverty, has followed the trends for half a century. The recent Great Recession has damaged any gains made in the last two or more decades in reducing poverty.
And the current numbers are horrifying. Last week I wrote a post about the immense suffering of the Syrian refugees, their fears and their hunger. It can’t be overlooked that here in America, we have so many suffering as well. Many hidden before our very eyes. Some hiding their poverty as if out of shame.
Kids go to school, often with empty or hungry bellies. While many food programs are in place at schools across the nation, chronic lack of food affects not just brain development but also attention and emotional control. Students who are hungry can be (and sometimes are) misdiagnosed with conditions such as ADHD, conduct disorder, and social anxiety, to name a few. They may then improperly receive treatment for these types of illnesses when what was needed were steady nutritious meals.
Students who are poor are just as likely to need glasses as any other child, and without funds, they may go through school unable to adequately read. They may also not get proper dental care even if they are covered by subsidized health insurance. They are susceptible to a number of chronic illnesses including diabetes, asthma and obesity (from a lack of healthy food choices). Children in poverty may live in homes not properly heated in the winter nor cooled in the summer. They may live in older homes with lead paint which increases their risk for long-term cognitive damage. Many people may be unaware that to a desperate hungry child, lead paint is soothing and sweet tasting.
So many such communities have been entirely overlooked by most Americans. We saw evidence of some of the painfully poverty-stricken areas after Hurricane Katrina. Areas that did not in any way resemble the American dream. Then there is the reservation of Pine Ridge South Dakota, home to several indigenous American Indian populations, and where 97% of the people live below the poverty line. Infant mortality is 300% above the national average, and life expectancy is lower than nearly anywhere on this side of Earth. 70% of students there drop out before completing high school.
There have been so many discussions and differing arguments on how to best approach reducing poverty. Creating jobs, assuring healthcare coverage, providing assistance for food supplementation, affordable daycare, and subsidized housing, are all important. The worst assumption a person can make about people suffering from poverty is that they are lazy and without hope. No one can imagine the life of someone in poverty. The word itself is so abstract. We can learn much about resilience from those who have survived.
Listen to Mia Birdsong, in this TED.com video tell us “They may be broke – but they’re not broken.”
That a country like the U.S. has such a large population of people living in poverty is incomprehensible. The answers to solve this issue may be complex, but one good place to begin the healing is to look into the eyes of the children.
““Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future” — President John F. Kennedy
Please read and learn more on how all of us can help:
THE CHILDREN’S DEFENSE FUND’S document End Poverty Now
BROOKINGS INSTITUTION [http://www.brookings.edu/research/interactives/2014/concentrated-poverty#/M10420]
[You can enjoy all the daily posts from the #30PostsHathSept bloggers HERE]