Friday, March 5, 2010

How does poverty affect people ?

I read an article on the about how does poverty affect people. It's a must read, and here it's ( it's a long article ):-

Poverty, violence, stress and abuse: recipe for trouble

The U.S. unemployment rate is hovering around 10 percent, and more than 17 percent of American children are poor. For too many kids, poverty brings hunger, even homelessness. Fathers who are absent and crime that is present. Stressed-out relationships and burned-out schools. And health care that flits between inadequate and non-existent.
Black and white photo of woman holding baby, child leaning against her, sitting under tent
( Dorothea Lange photo, Library of Congress
A migrant farm worker and her family in Nipomo, Calif., shows the face of poverty in March, 1936)
Although it's not news that poverty can be harmful, that poor kids, on average, have an outsize share of problems, researchers are building a detailed, almost mechanistic, picture of how negative conditions associated with poverty can set kids up for physical, emotional and social problems.
"There is growing evidence that adversity early in life has long-term consequences on physical and mental health well into adulthood," says Jack Shonkoff, who organized the "long reach of childhood poverty" session at the February 2010 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
To Shonkoff, a professor of pediatrics and child development at Harvard University, the new studies suggest that the long-term impact of childhood deprivation can be seen as a result of "toxic stress," which are demands from the environment that overload the child. New studies suggest that overwhelming stress -- caused by abuse, neglect or violence -- "has an impact on the brain and other organs," Shonkoff says.
Shonkoff hopes the new findings from neuroscience and other branches of science can be the basis for closing the persistent gap between poor kids and the rest of us. "The basic approach now for trying to improve outcomes [for poor kids] ... is to provide rich learning opportunities, Head Start and everything that came after it, to provide rich language stimulation and age appropriate opportunities for learning. When that's done well ... we can shift the trajectory toward better outcomes: more kids graduating high school, fewer kids in jail. But it doesn't completely close the gap. The question is, what else is to be done?"

An enduring pain

Many studies suggest that the effects of childhood troubles -- whether they are caused by poverty or not -- are durable. The Adverse Childhood Experiences project, for example, has studied more than 17,000 California adults, looking at the link between adverse childhood experiences like abuse, witnessing domestic violence, and drug or alcohol abuse in the household, with 18 outcomes, including depression, anxiety, hallucination, difficulty controlling anger and promiscuity.
The project found that every single negative outcome was significantly more common among adults who had suffered adverse experiences as a child . The risk of panic reactions, depressed mood, anxiety and hallucinations was more than doubled among adults with at least four adverse types of experience.
After at least four adverse childhood experiences, odds of damaging behavior increase. A study (see "The enduring effects ..." in bibliography) found that the odds for these behaviors increase as follows:
  • Smoking: 1.8
  • Obesity: 1.9
  • Anxiety: 2.4
  • Depression: 3.6
  • Illicit drug use: 4.5
  • Early sexual activity: 6.6
  • Alcoholism: 7.2
Although violence, abuse and neglect can affect any child, "every one of these conditions is more common among people who grew up poor or were abused as children," says Shonkoff. And in a sense, the distinction between poor and non-poor kids does not matter: a better picture of the long-term health effects of a bad environment could lead to a win-win solution for kids who are poor, and for other kids.

How do abuse and neglect change the brain?

Abuse and neglect can overwork the stress response and warp the mind: The stress hormone cortisol normally prepares the body for activity by increasing blood pressure and blood sugar, but problems can arise when stress is overloaded. "Kids who are subject to physical or sexual abuse show either chronically heightened cortisol, or are unable to mount a significant cortisol response to mild stress," says Nathan Fox of the University of Maryland. "Both cases are associated with disregulated behavior, an inability to control emotion or sustain attention."
Abuse and neglect can change the personality: Seth Pollak of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has shown that after significant abuse, children are quicker to detect anger in their environment, and start to see the world as unduly hostile. Pollak recently studied kids after their adoption from orphanages, and found deficits in visual memory and learning, and control of inhibitions, but not in auditory processing, or the ability to plan or follow rules. "These findings suggest that specific aspects of brain behavioral circuitry may be particularly vulnerable" to experience after birth, Pollak wrote with his coauthors
Stress can physically change the brain: A study published in late 2009 showed that the children of mothers who had been highly anxious at 19 weeks of gestation had significantly less gray matter in brain regions devoted to language and thought .
Depressed mothers matter: Depression, by sapping energy and interest in life, and by disturbing sleep and concentration, can make a mother less responsive to her child, and detract from the energy and emotional investment necessary for raising a family. Nine months after birth, significant depression affects 25 percent of poor mothers, and 11 percent of non-poor mothers. According to new study from the United Kingdom, "Depression in pregnancy significantly predicted violence in adolescence, even after controlling for the family environment, the child's later exposure to maternal depression, the mother's smoking and drinking during pregnancy, and parents' antisocial behavior" .
Poor mothers often have poor children, but timing matters: A program to reduce the trans-generational effects of poverty are most needed when parental poverty is most damaging. A new study has found that the mother's poverty from one year before the child's birth, up to age 5, played the greatest role in economic trouble when the children were in their 20s.
 Bar chart showing dramatic increase in maternal depression amongst poor families
Courtesy Working Paper No. 8, Center on the Developing Child.
Depression, a disabling mental disorder that can obstruct mother-child interactions, is much more common among poor mothers.

Explaining what we already know?

As Shonkoff admits, it's no news that being poor causes trouble for children. "People say, 'You're still doing research? We've known that for long time!'" But details on the timing and mechanism of damage are starting to reveal exactly how children are being damaged, and that suggests how to prevent trouble. "What's exciting is that we are learning what it is about poverty that gets under the skin, into the body, and leads to problems with learning and behavior, with physical and mental health," says Shonkoff, who directs Harvard's Center on the Developing Child.
It's not just a matter of abstract research, Shonkoff says. "We can use this information to be smarter in investments to protect children from poverty, and to prevent some consequences. It's not inevitable that kids in poverty should have these problems."

Stressed out

In psychology, "stress" happens when we are forced to respond to a physical, emotional or environmental "stressor."
Stress can be helpful: running stresses our bones and muscles, and they get stronger. We're attacked by a saber-toothed tiger, and a quick hormonal jolt dumps sugar into our blood and redirects blood to the large muscles, in preparation for a life-or-death sprint.
Black and white photo of women with somber look leaning up against a wall, wearing white headscarf
( Dorothea Lange photo, National Archives.
This young mother, a migrant worker from Texas, was photographed in Kern County, Calif., April 11, 1940)
But chronically elevated levels of the "stress hormone" cortisol can cause distress, and we are not talking about feeling bad. We are talking changes in the brain.
In 2007, Curt Sandman of the University of California at Irvine linked high maternal levels of cortisol at 30 to 32 weeks of pregnancy with "negative reactivity" in infants two months after birth. In English, the infants showed an unusually strong startle reaction after a sudden stimulus like a honking horn.
Cortisol measurements at other moments of pregnancy were not linked to negative reactivity .

Brain drain

More recently, Sandman and colleagues used an MRI to show that a pregnant mother's anxiety about the course of the pregnancy affects the structure of her child's brain at ages 6 to 9.
"That maternal anxiety can change the structure of the brain in a way that appears to be permanent is quite a remarkable finding," Sandman says. The data relating brain structure to cortisol levels (rather than anxiety) have yet to be published, but will likely show the same phenomenon, he added .
Curiously, generalized anxiety did not correlate with a change in brain structure. This shortage of gray matter is worrisome, Sandman says. "We know that the areas of the brain with reduced volume are related to cognition. These areas serve learning and memory, and certain of our findings with a younger cohort, at 12 months ... provide crystal-clear evidence that exposure to cortisol modulates cognitive performance."
The "modulation" is not all negative, however: High cortisol levels reduce cognitive ability early in pregnancy but later on they enhance it.
Although Sandman says the subjects in his brain-volume study were middle- or upper-class, "Our guess is that all our findings would be more dramatic in a population that had some real stresses. We have a very healthy cohort, and are still finding effects of pregnancy anxiety. We can assume that anybody who struggles with the current economic climate, and poverty, would have these stresses in much greater magnitude."
To Shonkoff of Harvard, "toxic stress" is the unifying principle in some of the mechanisms that harm young kids. The stress response is "magnificent" for dealing with acute stress, he says, but when the stress response gets stuck in gear due to the presence of a drug-addicted or physically abusive parent, a chronic stress reaction can harm the brain and other organs.
We know enough to act, Shonkoff concludes. "In the same way we understand that toxins like lead in the environment can cause organ damage, and so we screen for that, we should try to prevent or treat an overactive stress response that is producing chemicals that harm the organs."
Line graph showing dramatic rise in WIC participants from 1992 to 2006
One indicator of parental poverty, participation in the federal Women, Infants and Children program, has been rising since 1992.


A new focus on mitigating the chronic stresses of childhood could emerge from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, says Katherine Magnuson, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Act is funding early childhood advisory councils that will "look at the range of programs, at how well they are serving the need, and see what's missing. In most states, people know a lot more about early education, preschool, than about infant mental health, developmental screening for children, and making sure moms are screened for depression."
Maternal depression is prime for action, says Shonkoff. "A lot of science shows how chronic depression in mothers affects their response to their kids, and affects the kid's brain development, but no-one is connecting the dots." Verbal, physical and spoken interplay between parents and children promotes emotional and intellectual growth, he says, but depression saps energy and vitality, and therefore impairs the interaction.
Maternal depression should be a key interest of early-childhood programs, Shonkoff says. "We combed the literature and although there are lots of effective treatments for maternal depression, almost none are being evaluated for their impact on kids. If you don't have treatment focused on the interaction with the child, you get no improvement for the child, and the pattern of unresponsiveness gets hardened."
Bar chart showing a steep drop in IQ for children whose mothers have untreated depression
Courtesy Center on the Developing Child, Working Paper No. 8.
Instead, Shonkoff says, "We should combine treatment for the mother with work to help her understand how interacting with the kids is so important. It's obvious, but if you look at all the programs out there, there is no integrated approach to treatment. This is the craziness of how compartmentalized" social service programs have become, he says.
Although schools and other agencies have striven to provide enriching experiences, they are not enough, Shonkoff says. "Just providing richer opportunities is helping provide what the brain needs, but it's not helping with what the brain needs to be protected from."

Economic insights

When does poverty matter most to growing children? In a study published in January, Greg Duncan, a professor of education at the University of California at Irvine, correlated adults' current economic condition with their economic status during childhood. "We wanted to see whether there were any strong links, approaching causation, not just association, between economic deprivation at different ages, and adult economic outcomes," says Duncan.
Black and white photo of a building with many windows, some broken, security fences at the bottom
Crime can be a cause and effect of childhood stress. Here's a juvenile jail in Detroit, Michigan.
Those outcomes were measured by earnings, working hours, and school completion. Duncan found that "all the action" was related to the mother's income from the year before the child's birth until age five. For poor kids, the statistics associated a $3,000 increase in annual income at this time with a 17 percent rise in earnings when the kids were adults.
Other problems often associated with poverty, like out-of-wedlock births or committing crime, did not correlate as neatly with early income, Duncan says .
Through statistical legerdemain, Duncan says he and his colleagues tried to remove possible confounders. "We were able to isolate the effects of early childhood income by controlling for an extensive list of family conditions, the education of the parents, the test scores for parents [typically the mother] and the family structure."
The study was not equipped to answer the inevitable "why" question, Duncan admits. One category of explanation, he says, focuses on what money can buy, "a better neighborhood, a better learning environment, better day care. The second focuses on depressed parents, harsh parenting, the psychological processes that might be going on in a family with stressful economic conditions. The evidence we saw tends to point toward the first explanation ... but we'd have liked to have had measures" of other relevant factors, such as housing, the home learning environment, and the quality of school and child care.
Chart showing U.S. having much higher rates of children with income below the median, compared to other countries
When poverty among children under 18 years is defined as having an equivalent household income less than 50 percent of the national median, the United States comes in last.

Throw money at the problem?

If poverty hurts, money helps. Duncan says several "random-assignment experiments" have shown that children in families that got more income through a variety of mechanisms had higher test scores and rates of school graduation.
During the welfare reform of the 1990s, states tried to cajole parents on welfare to work, and some states supplemented wage income by roughly $2,000 per year. Three studies later found improvements in child achievement, but only in states that supplemented the earned income, Duncan says.
Another "quasi-experiment" occurred when the Earned Income Tax Credit, which distributes income to the working poor through the federal income tax system, roughly doubled its payout from 1993 to 1997. According to Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin, significant improvements in school achievement followed the increase. She says a similar thing has happened among Native American tribes after they started getting casino income.
Maybe it's not too shocking: If the problem is a shortage of money, money can help...

End of the article .

Now can money help ?

Yes. it can. And yes we can stop all the things that's happening to people because of poverty.
If you wish to help go donate to some charity where you know they will send your money to the poor and if you don't know any, then on the right of my blog, there are groups of charity where you can help , check their sites.

P.S: a lovely post about poverty by Kanwalful here


  1. Very informative post, Wafa. And I don't mind the link at all =)

  2. Masha'a'Allah thanks for this post. I learned a lot. It's a crying shame

  3. Kanwalful, thank you and welcome to my blog :)

  4. Texan, It's always a shame when we can find food while millions die of its lack .

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