Fighting to stay above water takes its toll.
The ramifications for individuals, families, and our communities of the findings in following article seem both evident and troubling, especially as COVID-19 pandemic continues to reverberate through our economy. The concepts about poverty’s affect on people is even more profound when considering a state like Connecticut, that ranks as one of the richest overall, has at least one city consistently ranking among the 10 poorest in the nation:
“The poor, in this view, are less capable not because of inherent traits, but because the very context of poverty imposes a load and impedes capacity. The findings, in other words, are not about poor people, but about any people who find themselves poor.”
Poverty isn’t a demographic issue, it is a human issue. While people of certain ethnicity or race are undeniably more likely to face poverty, the effects are blind to our differences.
While there have been follow-up articles, both pro and con, about the methodologies and outcomes of this particular study (sciencemag.org), the summary from the authors brings a quantitative perspective to the effects of poverty that cuts across geography, race, gender, and other demographics. I’ve witnessed the effects poverty can have on families, communities, and children’s educational progress, but to indicate even the possibility, let alone probability, that there may be such clear differences in the cognitive abilities among people solely based on financial standing is startling.
The authors hypothesize that the cognitive differences may be due to the mental resources people in poverty must expend in their situations, leaving fewer cognitive resources available for other tasks. The results could not be explained by nutrition, time, effort, or stress. They wrote that, “evoking financial concerns has a cognitive impact comparable with losing a full night of sleep.”
Poverty can happen to anyone at any time. Many people are one job loss (“78% of workers live paycheck to paycheck”) , one major illness “This is the real reason most Americans file for bankruptcy”, or one catastrophic family or property loss away from the poverty line. Poverty, while the term may conjure up images of destitute people who are homeless, actually includes many working poor families who simply do not make enough from their one, or many times more than one, job to rise above state or federal poverty lines. Poverty, through this lens, may be viewed as a form or trauma and requires not just financial solutions, but mental and physical health support as well.
Seeing that policy changes regarding how to support those facing poverty are slow, at best, this article is a call to each of us to think about how we can take individual and group steps to help our fellow citizens.
Actions for reflection:
1. Support social charities that return as much of your donated money as possible to those in need. (Ex. https://www.charitynavigator.org/)
2. Advocate for effective support systems to your local representatives.
3. Support school and community-based program fundraisers. Public resources are some of the more effective remediators of the effects of poverty.