5 Elements of the Poverty Cycle in America

If poverty was a character in a movie, it would be an assassin. It sits there, lurking in the shadows, just out of sight – ready to lash out with weapons like undernourishment, lack of education, and mass incarceration to slay its targets and eradicate human progress.

“Understanding the real root of the problem we call poverty is crucial,” Allen says. “If we take a

good hard look at the problems facing the world today, with an emphasis on how poverty

exacerbates those challenges, then the hidden assassin of poverty reveals itself and is much

easier to destroy,” says best selling author Malcom Allen.

In his new book, Poverty Assassin, Allen exposes this deadly villain and gives his readers the tools they need to defend themselves against poverty.

Allen touches on common causes and effects of poverty, and how to people can escape it.

These are 5 of the more common causes of the poverty cycle in America.

1. Reproduction

Teens who get pregnant tend to come from more disadvantaged families than those who do not become pregnant. Moreover, among pregnant teens, those who choose abortion tend to be more advantaged than those who opt to carry the baby to term. 

As a result, teen mothers are more likely than women who delay childbearing to come from poor families, to be black or Hispanic, and, before they become pregnant, to be behind in school, and to have lower academic test scores.

Teen mothers are far from a random swath of the teen population who wind up in poverty because of a few particularly fast swimming sperm. Rather, they are likely to be in poverty already.

2. Undernourishment

The word “hunger” calls to mind thin, starving children in developing countries, but in the US today, the real picture of undernutrition is different. In some cases, children who are obese who are malnourished because they are consuming the wrong types of foods – foods that are calorie dense, but nutritionally poor. It is called “hidden hunger” and it robs billions of people the opportunity to reach their full potential.

More than half of American children do not get enough of vitamins D and E, while more than a quarter do not get enough calcium, magnesium or vitamin A, according to a recent Journal of Nutrition study. This can result in a compromised immune system, stunted physical growth, reduced mental ability, chronic disease and even death.

3. Crime

The effects that poverty has on crime can be explained in multiple ways. For starters, there is a higher rate of untreated mental illness that is in populations struggling with poverty compared to wealthier populations. Now most people who struggle with a mental illness will never commit a crime, but there are some types of severe mental illness which increase the risk of an individual committing a crime.

But a mental illness isn’t the only link that there is between poverty and crime. Being in poverty often leads to high levels of stress. An overwhelming desire to meet certain basic needs becomes the highest priority. Over time, if those needs cannot be met, then some individuals will commit robberies, burglaries, and other forms of them. It can also lead to violent acts, though in the mind of the perpetrator, the actions are seen as a method of self-defense.

4. Education

Education and poverty are complexly tangled. Low-income children are predisposed to various obstacles at school and at home, limiting their chances for educational success. At the same time, missed educational opportunities trap children and young adults in the cycle of poverty. To best serve low-income students, we must address their unique needs.

Students from low-income households face the consequences of poverty in every area of their development. Some obstacles children from low-income homes may face include:

Instability and Distress. A child’s home life significantly impacts his or her academic performance. Instability, abuse, hunger, mental health, language difficulties, addiction, domestic violence, and neglect at home all have negative effects on a child’s cognitive, behavioral, and emotional development. If a child is concerned about his next meal, how is he going to focus on a math test? If she’s concerned for her safety, how is she going to focus on her homework?

Poor nutrition and health. Poor nutrition, less access to healthcare, and little exercise affect a child’s reasoning, memory, attention, emotional regulation, and impulse control. If their physical needs aren’t being met, students quickly fall behind in the classroom.

Brain development and cognition. Low-income children often perform below peers from higher socio-economic statuses on standardized tests and academic performance. A disruptive home environment, poor health, and instability can lead to distraction, attention deficits, weak vocabulary, and poor processing skills. These basic cognitive skills are critical, particularly in early childhood development.

In addition to the physical and cognitive consequences of poverty, students often lose motivation and hope for a better future. Without the support, opportunity, and encouragement to dream of something different, students don’t know how to work toward something different.

5. Mass Incarceration

In low-income communities where access to education, job opportunities and financial capital are limited, families get stuck in a cycle of poverty that is extremely difficult to break. The cycle of poverty is not merely about income levels but is about a myriad of factors that influence a person’s ability to prosper and constructively participate in the world. 

One of those factors is a person’s or community’s relationship with the criminal justice system. The likelihood of having a negative relationship increases greatly if you come from a poor background. Social, economic and cultural factors related to poverty and the criminal justice system have created a “school to prison” or “cradle to prison” pipeline that disproportionately affects poor Black men. 

Within five years time, 76.6% of people released from prison return, which further reflects the cyclical relationship between incarceration and poverty. Additionally, the cost of being incarcerated in general weighs heavily on people and families, both in terms of legal fees and opportunity loss while serving time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s