The price that is paid for poverty does not just affect the poor, it affects are paid for by the society in which that poverty exists. In any society that has poverty, the most vulnerable victims of that poverty are children, who are subject to live in the situations that they were born into. On a micro level, children growing up in impoverished conditions will carry emotional scars, which limit them throughout their adult lives. On the macro level, society will be harmed at various levels due to the prevalence of poverty within their societies. As will be outlined in this essay, poverty is a vicious cycle that repeats itself through generational poverty. Child poverty, leads to adult problems, which leads to societal problems. Camila Batmanghelidjh has outlined the array of consequences child poverty afflicts. In her article in The Guardian, Living in poverty exerts a high cognitive toll on families; she points out in her article that that “Chronic poverty causes health difficulties, educational failure, mental health challenges, and impoverished aspirations” (Batmanghelidjh, 1). When a society has a sect that has nothing to lose, the whole society has nothing to lost. It is the last part of Batmanghelidjh, ‘s quotation, she mentions “Impoverished aspirations” have to do that it not just poor children and their families that are affected by child poverty. Child poverty is one face of the ongoing cycle of poverty. It is society that will pay by having a sect of their population that has forgotten how to dream and because of their deplorable conditions have stopped reaching and searching for better things in the future. The role of a social worker is often though of as one to “save” someone from their poverty, but the true role of a social worker is that of leveling the playing field so that impoverished people can have the same advantages from the middle and upper classes.
Poverty is a problem, which most be looked at from a historical perspective. In a sense, poverty is a problem that has always plagued humanity. In every state that has ever existed there are people within the society who struggle to obtain their basic needs. The issue “is complicated” and though there are some primary causes, each is unique to the society where it exists and “there is no single origin of it.” (Payne, 78). Understanding that poverty has always been a face of humanity though should not lead one to acceptance of it. Children are the most innocent victims of poverty. With current estimates being that every thirty seconds, a child does of starvation or curable diseases. (Kristoff, 46)
Batmanghelidjh begins her article citing the anecdotal evidence of a seven-year-old boy named Andrew, who spends much of his time preoccupied about his shoes. Haphazard materials hold his shoes together. Since they have holes in them, if he gets them wet, his feet will smell, so he walks with his head down to avoid that. From the information related, it seems Andrew obsesses constantly about his shoes, which he calls his “singing shoes.” He knows that his mother works very hard to keep her family fed and does not want to strain her further by needing new shoes. This leads him into a repeated cycle of anxious thoughts that traps him into what for many would seem something trivial—shoes—but in situations of poverty becomes the norm. Citing research writes, “Scientists believe Andrew's preoccupation with lack of appropriate clothing could be potentially comparable to losing a night's sleep, or the difference between the performance capacities of an alcoholic versus a normal adult” (Batmanghelidjh, 1).
In sociological terms, Batmanghelidjh is looking at the issue from a conflict theory perspective. According one definition, “Conflict theory emphasizes the role of coercion and power in producing social order.” (Crossman, 1). Batmanghelidjh broaches the issue of children in poverty as part of a vicious cycle that perpetuated by the status quo of those in power. Under this view, it is avoidable, not inevitable. It occurs because those who control the resources and have political power do not care to put enough time and resources into solving the issue.
Children born into poor households are not to blame for their poverty. Neither, according to Batmanhelidjh’s assessment, are the parents of the families into which they are born. Poverty is a viscous cycle. Poor children grow up with educational and emotional disadvantages that follow them into adulthood and perpetuate this cycle. The theory of causation that Batmanhelidjh uses to explain this phenomenon is one she finds being neglected. She cites her colleague’s coverage of research, which shows that “Poverty saps mental capacity to deal with complex tasks” (Jha, 1). A study done on the issue suggests, “being preoccupied with money problems is equivalent of 13 IQ points, or losing a night’s sleep.”
Because this is that poor people spend much of their mental capacity worrying about cutting costs and what they will do to pay bills rather than taking concrete actions that will lead to these problems being solved. Solutions to this can be simple. One of the four researchers who conducted this study suggested that “small interventions or ‘nudges’ at appropriate moments to help poor people access services and resources could help them break out of the poverty trap.
The poverty trap is what is being defined as the sociological situations that create poverty in cultures. While things can be done, and social programs can be implemented that can alleviate poverty, it must be mentioned that the current economic systems in place in much of the west, in a way causes poverty. Unregulated capitalism leads to boom and bust situations.
The book “The 2010 State of the World” is a collection of articles and essay that discusses this issue. The project director worked with over twenty-five activists and writers to compile the book. One of the essays written by Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Garmeen bank and microfinance advocate writes that “a fistful of capital could turn” abject poverty into a livelihood (Yunus, xvii). He points to the problem, but also advocates his own view of the solution to the problem. He sees consumerism, and consumer cultures, cultures based on a market economy of consumptions as partly to blame for poverty. As long as poverty exists, child poverty will always exist.
Consumerism is entrenched deeply in our society. Over the last fifty years consumerism has increased, leading many to see that current age as one marked by waste and excess Like, Batmanghelidjh, Yunus looks at society from a macro level, he sees the structures of society, and a lack of efforts applied to reducing the hardship of the poor as one of the underlying causes of poverty. He writes, "Economists believe that it [our consumer society] has played a big role in spurring economic growth and reducing poverty in recent decades" (Yunus, xviii).
One definition of progress is increased efficiency in the use of resources. This benefits the upper and middle classes more than it does those living in poverty. Yunnus believes that our current rate of consumption and the rate of efficiency increase as not sustainable. This means that current efforts not moving at rates that keep pace with the expansion of resource consumption. For society to make gains against the ill effects of wins of consumer culture, Yunus believes that it is necessary to “make living sustainably as natural tomorrow as consumerism is today.”
While the Guardian writers focus more on the problem as being economical, some groups are focusing on small things other than social programs that can help mitigate the problems of poverty. It is not the lack of material things so much as it is the emotional consequence that that lack carries with it. Poverty robs children of their dignity, and so a program focused on combatting the consequences of child poverty needs to deal with that.
Jose Antonio founded the Venezuela youth orchestra which, according to his bio on TED.com, has “transformed thousands of kids’ lives in Venezuela” He was awarded an award by the organization that hosts TED talks. In a speech recorded by TED, he details his journey of creating the youth orchestra in Venezuela. He sees such programs as a way to combat child poverty. He is certain that implementing such programs all over the world would directly combat child poverty.
He speaks about the difference that learning music had on him as a child, and sees this as achievable by any child, rich and poor. He is proud to announce in his speech that in Latin America music is no longer a discipline available only to the elite. He also sees music as a “A basic human right” and associates the aid of what music does to the individual benefit the whole society. He says that “If people can play music together”, he says, “they can peacefully co-exist.” But more than that, it pays dividend in a child’s self esteem, something that child poverty robs a child. He looks at the role of music on a macro level by recognizing how the individual’s benefits transcend the individual benefits.
Though it started with only a few dozen kids, the program that Antonio began now aids 300,000 youth in Venezuela in this way. One the surface it offers them music, but if Antonio’s thinking is correct, he also gives these kids emotional gains, which help their self-esteem. So while there may be less statistical evidence to point to it eliminating poverty, based on current date it could be said that music programs help mitigate some of the consequences of child poverty.
Antonio also notes how music education has benefits for a child’s family. A child can become a role model for his own parents. The stakes for music for Antonio then are high. He sees music as a pathway for children to achieve their dreams.
At another level, those who control resources do not pay the working classes enough to allow them to support themselves, much less a family, which perpetuates the poverty trap. Another writer for the Guardian, Gavin Kelly believes “low pay is not simply a rite of passage that young people go through, the odds of escaping are truly grim.” It is for reasons like this that generational poverty is often called a “Poverty trap.” Kelly points to research that shows that low wages are not just a stage that a young person goes through, it is a trap that keeps many people and their families for a career. Kelly is writing to show that most people misunderstand what low-pay does to those receiving it within the society. He writes, “Low pay is too often thought of in terms of a series of snapshots rather than a motion picture” (Kelly, 1). With five million workers in the country being paid less than what is understood as the living wage, it is low wages is one of the thriving problems fueling child poverty today. He cites new research from the Resolution Foundation, which has shown that 28% of those earning less than the living wage never make it out. 44% will move between a poverty wage and a livable wage, but never fully exited their poverty. A mere 18% broke free entirely of low pay (Kelly, 1).
Women, the research suggests, bear the brunt of this burden. The study shows that they are much less likely to break out of poverty wages than men. This feeds into childhood poverty, as single mothers, without any help, earning less than what has been decided is a living wage, also often have to raise children and bear all the expenses that number. Only one in ten women stuck in low-wage situations will be able to get out of them. Kelly warns against the folly of finding a time in recent history when things were any different. Mobility is the term used to define the possibility of moving between social classes. There is not a time in recent memory where people of low-mobility have ever had it easy to move to a situation of high mobility (Kelly, 1). Kelly points to research that neither in the last decade, and the last three decades before them have people in impoverished situations had an easy opportunity to escape it. Challenging anyone to cite research that shows a decade when such a move had been easy, Kelly writes, “ You will search in vain for a recent golden age when the working-poor had plenty of escape routes” (Kelly, 1). Kelly also adopts a conflict theory model as a framework for understanding poverty. The consequences, Kelly writes occur at all levels of society. The rich, the middle class and the poor all have something to lose for the cycle of poverty to be perpetuated as it is. The link between poverty and crime has been well documented. Batmanghelidjh ties them as being to blame for the 2011 riots, which carried a cost of £300m in just London. People without hope are toxic to a society. Batmanghelidjh writes “When people get to the point where the doors to solutions slam in their faces, they feel they've got nothing to lose.” She thinks that under our current conditions, A toxic combination of lack of safety and chronic poverty is depleting our young.” (Batmanghelidjh, 1). She does not seem optimistic about the prospects of impoverished children today breaking out of their current conditions. As Kelly is honest about the problem always existing, Batmanghelidjh is realistic regarding what it would take to cure the problem. A social worker must be realistic also, and realize that while they cannot change legal structures that allow poverty, they can offer emotional and educational resources to help bridge the poverty gab and break people out of the poverty trap.
Batmanghelidjh, Camila. "Living in poverty exerts a high cognitive toll on families."theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 30 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/30/poverty- high-cognitive-toll-children>.
Jha, Alok. "Poverty saps mental capacity to deal with complex tasks, say scientists."The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 30 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/aug/29/poverty-mental-capacity- complex-tasks>.
Kelly, Gavin. "The price we pay for poverty wages is too high." theguardian.com. Guardian News and Media, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/27/price-pay-poverty- wages>.
Kristoff, Nicholas. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.
Payne, Ruby K., Ph.D. A Framework for Understanding Poverty workbook. Third edition, 2008; 78 pp. Bibliography p. 78.