Poverty is defined in many ways. The dictionary definition simply does not suffice to show the human cost of poverty. Poverty is much more than the limited capital resources that this definition suggests.
Poverty is defined by the federal government as 16,660 for a family of four in 1998 (Child Poverty in the United States 2000). These figures are tremendously flawed; a single individual residing in the United States would not fare well by the standards of most individuals at this income level. Individuals in Laos, Cuba, Ecuador, or many other nations however, would live as kings on this income. Poverty is, therefore a subjective concept far more complicated than a yearly income. The individual most harshly affected by poverty are those who are the most powerless to do anything about it–children.
Research indicates that extreme poverty in the first five years of life alters a childs chances in life compared to lesser degrees of poverty in later life. This is the result of several key factors. The first problem associated with poverty is poor nutrition. It has been proven that poor nutrition leads to lower intelligence, poor physical development, and diminished immunity to disease.
Children deprived of proper nutrition during the brains most formative years score much lower on tests of vocabulary, reading comprehension, arithmetic, and general knowledge. The more severe the poverty a child faces, the lower his or her nutritional level is likely to be (Brown and Pollitt 38-43). Government assistance to poor families such as WIC help; however, the guidelines for eligibility fall woefully short of making sure that every child has adequate nutrition. As stated previously, the federal guidelines for poverty are ludicrous when applied to real world economics.
To further complicate matters, guidelines used by agencies such as the United States Department of Health and Human Services serve to painfully remind the poor that they are a nuisance to be eliminated. A child that goes to school hungry, even if not malnourished, will have greater difficulty focusing their efforts than a well fed one. An individual who is hungry will eventually become hypoglycemic, a condition in which blood sugar levels fall. The symptoms of hypoglycemia range from fatigue, sleepiness, irritability, headache, and decreased mental alertness.
Many children that are perceived as having behaviour problems may actually have a nutrition problem. All of this is assuming that one is fortunate enough to live in an industrialized nation. Children in poor countries do not attend school unless they are the sire of wealthy parents, thus sealing their fate as impoverished individuals. In many countries no child labor laws exist and therefore a child is seen as a productive worker. Often these children work as many hours as an adult.
In all fairness the harshness of life in many countries dictates that having ones children educated is a luxury they can not afford even if state funded schools exist. The family contribution theory extends even to the children. The first image of poverty that enters most peoples minds is that of a third world nation, children of industrialized nations are not immune. The United States child poverty rate is substantially higher- often two-to-three times higher- than that of any other major western industrialized nation (Child Poverty in the United States 2000). Canada has its share of problems as well. Canada has the second highest child poverty rate when compared against 17 other industrialized nations around the world, second only to the United States (What We Know 1997).
Poverty often results in a less healthy population than would be otherwise expected. The reasons for this are varied. An economically limited individual will tend to live in more cramped conditions than his wealthy counterpart. Doctors are averse to providing free or low cost health care.
When poor nutrition is combined with cramped quarters and infrequent visitation to health care professionals disease is the result. Childhood immunizations are one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions of the twentieth century. They have drastically reduced or eliminated the burden of many illnesses (Childrens Defense Fund 36). Not if you live in a third world nation though. Children, who are by nature less resistant to disease, do not .