Effects of Poverty on Child Development by Levone

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Lise Leveille and Mandy Delgado June 2, 2004 EDGE 297C Professor Bruce Lusignan


Stereotypically, when people think of poverty, they think it only happens to lazy, unemployed people who do not feel like going out, finding work, and keeping a steady job. This is rarely the case. Poverty is an issue that cuts across all ages and races in the United States, including men and women, children and elderly, 2-parent and single-parent households, the employed, and the list of people goes on. Sadly, more children are currently living in poverty today than 30 years ago (Children’s Defense Fund, 2002). In 1993 15.7 million children were living in poverty. The numbers decreased for a few years after 1993, but have recently rose to their current state of 12.1 million (Children’s Defense Fund, 2002). With such an astonishing number of children currently living in poverty, it is essential to understand the short and long-term effects of these living conditions. With a better understanding, more informed policy decisions can be made in order to insure proper care and development for these underprivileged youth. In this report we will address the effects of poverty on youth living in low-income families. Four aspects of youth development will be focused upon, including physical and mental health, parenting, school achievement, and incidences of delinquent behavior. This analysis will allow for more informed policy suggestions can be made.

The federal poverty level is the standard by which the United States determines economic need. Currently, the federal poverty level stands at $18,400 for a family of four. Among those people living bellow the federal poverty level, 12.1 million are


children (Lu & Koball, 2003). Children under the age of 18 years represent a disproportionate share of the people in poverty with 35.1%, despite representing only one-forth of the total population (US Census Bureau, 2003). Consequently, 16% of American children are not receiving basic necessities like stable housing and reliable childcare, due to poverty (Hall& Koball, 2003).

Affected Age Groups Despite recent decreases in the poverty rate for children under the age of three, young children are still more likely to be poor than any other age group (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2002). The poverty rate for adults or elderly in 2000 was actually 80 percent lower than the rate for children under the age of three.

Familial Income Although the number of children technically living in poverty seems large, the actual number of child not receiving adequate care due to economic strain is even larger. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, the income needed for most families to provide their children with basic necessities like heath care, adequate food, and stable housing is twice that of the considered “poverty level” in this country. Of those children living below the poverty level, 7 percent of the children are living in extreme poverty, which is defined as families living below 50 percent of the federal poverty level (Moore, 2002). Additionally, children experiencing extreme poverty today are even worse off because their families are less likely than they were in the mid-1990s


to use social programs for which they are eligible, such as Medicaid or Food Stamps (Zedlewski, 2002)

Familial Structure Family structure is very importance when considering the effects of poverty on children. According to the US Census Bureau in 2002, both the poverty rate and the number of families in poverty increased to 9.6 percent, or 7.2 million. Poverty in families with married couples has also increased from 4.9 percent (2.8 million) in 2001 to 5.3 percent (3.1 million) in 2002 (US Census Bureau). However, in 2001 children living in single-mother households are nearly five times as likely as children living in households with married parents to be living in poverty (US Census Bureau, 2001). In 2002 families with a female householder with no husband present increased to 3.6 million. It should also be noted that they made up half of all families living in poverty. This has been found to hold true among all racial and ethnic groups.

International Poverty Rates When looking at poverty rates among other nations, many industrialized nations have lower poverty rates than the United States (Rainwater, 1999). For example, in the mid-1990s the percentage of children living below half of the national median income from various countries was: 3 percent for Sweden, 11 percent for Germany, 15 percent for Canada, and 20 percent for the United Kingdom. The United States had the highest percentage with 22 percent of their children living below half of the national median (Rainwater, 1999).


Parental Employment Underemployment and unemployment are important issues pertaining to American’s today, as the numbers of children living in low-income families are on the rise (US Census Bureau, 2002). Considering the economic slump that has been felt by this country over the past couple of years, employment has become an especially important issue. However, it is important to note that parental employment does not prevent families from living in poverty. The National Center of Children in Poverty determined that most of
Fig. 1 Parental Work Status (Lu & Koball, 2003)

the children living in low-income

families have parents who are actually employed full-time and year-round.

Areas of Poverty Upon looking at the geography of low-income families (defined as twice the federal poverty level, or $36,800 for a family of four), general trends can be found throughout the country. Two out of every three children in low-income families live in either the South or the West. Specifically, 41% of children in low-income families live in the South, while 26% live in the West. Additionally, in the South and West children in rural areas are more likely to live in low-income families, accounting for 51% in each location. In the Northeast and Midwest, children from low-income families are more likely to live in urban areas, with 56% in the Northeast and 49% in the Midwest.


Nonetheless, a disproportionate share of people in poverty, 39.9 percent compared to 29.0 percent, lived inside central cities. Nine of the 50 states- Arkansas, Florida,
Fig. 2 Percent of low income families by region (Lu &

Koball, 2003)

Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan,

Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah- showed increases in poverty while the other states remained the same (Proctor & Dalaker, 2003).

Race/Ethnicity Rates of poverty vary dramatically by race and ethnicity. Of the children living in low-income families between 1997 and 2001, 44 percent were white, 24 percent black, 27 percent Latino and 5 percent were of another ethnicity (Lu and Koball, 2003). Although more white children lived in families whose income was below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, black and Latino children were more than twice as likely to live in such families than non-Hispanic white and Asian or Pacific Islander children (Lu & Koball, 2003). Young Hispanic children living in a two-parent family are three times as likely to be poor as black children. This may be due to the fact that children of immigrants are 49 percent more likely to earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level as adults than are children of native-born parents (Lu & Koball, 2003). Therefore, since there is a greater likelihood of Latino parents being recent immigrants to the United States, Latino children are more likely to live in low-income families (Lu & Koball, 2003).


There is little disagreement that children living in impoverished environments face barriers to optimal growth and development. Many studies have focused specifically on the physical consequences and resulting diseases of growing up as an underprivileged youth. Children growing up in low income families have physical demands placed upon them that wealthy children never have to face. As a result, they deal with increased prevalence of several different types of diseases and poor health.

Health Consequences The association between poverty and poor child health has been well documented. It has been shown that low-income children were 73% more likely to have a severe health condition than non-poor children (Newacheck, 1994). Further studies have shown that poverty is associated with increased neonatal and post-neonatal mortality rates, higher risk of injuries from accidents or physical abuse and neglect, higher risk of asthma and lower developmental scores in a range of tests at multiple ages (Aber et al., 1997). It has also been found that child health varies by family income. According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, the percentage of children and adolescents in very good or excellent health rises as family income increases. Another health consequence of poverty is abnormal growth. In a high poverty community in Eastern Kenducky, 21.6% of the children exhibited low birth weight (15th percentile of reference values), with 13% of the girls exhibiting stunting (5th percentile of reference values) (Crooks, 1999). Growth deficits are of great concern due to the long term consequences associated with them, including reduced immuno competence, slower


cognitive development, and lower work capacity. Excessive growth is also of great concern due to its resulting increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and some forms of cancer. In the high poverty community in eastern Kentucky, 33% of the children were overweight and 13% were obese (85th and 95th percentile of reference values) (Crooks, 1999).

Nutrition Nutrition is an extremely important part of growth and development. Poverty affects nutritional status in every key phase of development. Studies have shown that poverty affects pregnant women’s nutritional status by reducing income available for food and failing to ensure that the fetus receives the essential nutrients for normal brain development (Bridgman, 1998). Deficits in brain growth and central nervous system development resulting from early malnutrition can compromise early learning, which can then become a risk for decreased economic opportunities and poverty later in life (Bridgman, 1998).

Lasting Effects Malnutrition due to deficiencies suffered early in life lasts well after it has been corrected for in the insufficient diet. Children who had an iron deficiency in infancy (and also had treatment thereafter) had lower mental and motor test scores at five years and at 10-13 years and had more behavioral problems at 10-13 years than peers who had good iron status in infancy, taking into account family environmental factors (Lozoff et al., 1997a; Lozoff et al., 1997b). The first evidence that iron deficiency actually alters brain


development in humans was proposed in 1996 when Roncagliolo et al. showed that there was slower nerve conduction in the auditory pathway among six month old infants with iron deficiency anemia. The differences were not corrected after years of iron replacement. These findings highlight the importance of insuring proper care during the

crucial early developmental years. Epidemiological studies have also shown that growing up in poverty has lasting physical effects. Sociobiologists, Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb, showed that being born into poverty carries tremendous residual psychological and sociological consequences even for those who move up in social class later in life (Sennett et al., 1972). Another study that highlights the astonishing effects of growing up in poverty was conducted in 1989 on a group of nuns. All the nuns took their vows as young adults, and spent the rest of their lives sharing the same diet, health care and housing; they all lived the exact same lifestyle. However, despite the control of all these variables, in old age, their patterns of disease, dementia, and longevity were still highly predicted by the SES status they had when they became nuns more than half a century before (Snowdown et al., 1989).

Causes of SES Health Gradient The disproportionate amount of illness exhibited in low income children may be caused by several different factors related to low income living conditions. People living in poverty are generally exposed to less health-promoting factors and more healthdecreasing factors, they are less educated, have less access to quality health care, and tend to live a more stressful life.


I. Health-Promoting and Health-Decreasing Factors People living below the poverty line are generally exposed to more factors that are deleterious to general health. They are statistically more likely to smoke, drink in excess, not exercise and have an unhealthy diet (Sapolsky 1998). All of which lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and obesity. Poor people also have less access to health promoting factors. They are less likely to have a car with air bags and more likely to live near a toxic dump, have inadequate heat in the winter or be beaten by a mugger. II. Lack of Education People living in poverty, on average, are less educated. Education levels and income are very tightly linked. Poor people don’t know about or understand the risk factors that they are being exposed to or the health promoting factors that they are missing. Even if it is within their power to do something, they simply aren’t informed of their health options. For example, poor women are less likely to have heard of pap tests and are, therefore, less likely to be screened for cervical cancer (Harlan et al., 1991). III. Lack of Health Care One of the most important proposed causes of the SES health gradient is lack of access to health care. Despite the expansion of Medicaid and increases in coverage over time, a large proportion of children living in poverty still go without health care. In a three year average between 2000 and 2002, 5,743,000 children living in poverty did not have any health insurance (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). At least a quarter of children and youth lack health insurance for at least one month during their first three years of life and


more than half of these children had a gap in insurance for six or more months (Kogan et al). The three primary reasons that children are not insured are related to their parent’s employment including factors such as job instability, employers that do not offer health benefits, and cost to workers of employer sponsored insurance. However, lack of insurance is not completely due to these factors. Astonishingly, not all children who are eligible for Medicaid are enrolled in the program, suggesting another case of lack of education or awareness on the part of the parent. This shows, once again, that parent education is an important factor in children’s health and development. Lack of health insurance can have very serious effects on growth and development of a young child. Children and adolescents who lack health insurance are less likely to have a usual source of care, are less likely to be immunized and receive well-baby care or well-child care, and are more likely to be hospitalized for conditions that could have been avoided (Kasper, 1997; Rosenback, 1985; Short and Leftkowitz, 1992). A recent survey from the National Center for Health Statistics, found that, compared with privately insured children from birth to age 18, children and adolescents without health insurance are six times more likely to go without needed medical care, five times more likely to use hospital emergency rooms as a regular source of care, and four times more likely to have necessary care delayed (Simpson et al.). Access to health care is extremely important for proper health and development; however, quality of care is also important. Medicaid, covering more than 18 million low income children and adolescents, does improve access to care for these children; however, it does not ensure quality of care once they are in the health care system. Low


income children covered with Medicaid still may face reduced access to after-hours care, reduced access to a regular provider and higher rates of dissatisfaction in the quality of their care (Bridgman, 1998). Also, it has been found that the poorer you are judged to be based on the neighborhood you live in, your home and your appearance, the less likely paramedics are to revive you on the way to the hospital (Sudnow, 1967). IV. Stress While lack of health care seems to be the main contributor to the disproportionate amount of disease in low income families. It almost definitely is not the only factor. A fourth explanation for the SES health gradient is stress. The strongest SES gradients for individual diseases are for those with the greatest sensitivity to stress, such as heart disease, hypertension and psychiatric disorders. Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biological Science and Neuroscience at Stanford University, is one of the countries leading researches on the effects of stress and stress related diseases. In his book, Why Zebras Don’t get Ulcers, Sapolsky argues that you cannot consider disease outside the context of the society in which that person has gotten ill, and that persons place in that society. The majority of Sapolky’s research is conducted on baboons; however, it is astonishing how readily his findings can be applied to humans. Much like humans, baboons live in social communities consisting of extensive dominance hierarchies. For the subordinate baboon in these hierarchies, life is filled with a disproportionate share not only on physical stressors, but of psychological stressors as well. Sapolsky has observed several physical outcomes due to the subordinate animal’s stressful lifestyle.


The main stress hormone is called a glucocorticoid and is released from the adrenal glands in the case of a stressful event. Resting levels of glucocorticoids in subordinate baboons are elevated compared with higher ranking controls. They also have smaller and slower glucocorticoid responses in stressful situations and their recovery after the stressor is delayed. This combination leads to an inefficient stress response and a less fit animal. Excess levels of glucocorticoids have been directly correlated to cell death in certain parts of the brain. Cardiovascular abnormalities were also seen in these baboons including: elevated resting blood pressure, sluggish cardiovascular response to real stressors, and a sluggish recovery. These animals also had suppressed levels of the good high density lipoprotein cholesterol, fewer circulating white blood cells (immune suppression) and lower levels of insulin like growth factor-1, which helps heal wounds. These physical realities have been shown to increase risk of developing diabetes, peptic ulcers, cardiovascular disease, growth disorders, and reproductive malfunction. These markers of being a low ranking animal have also been found in other primates, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, wolves, rabbits, pigs and fish. According to Sapolsky, the human equivalent of being a low ranking social animal is being poor. Being poor involves an increase in physical and psychological stressors that are not present in the upper class of society. People living in poverty are more likely to take part in manual labor, deal with a greater risk of work related accidents, have multiple jobs, chronic sleep deprivation, have to walk everywhere instead of being able to drive in an air conditioned car, go hungry or have no money for hot water for a proper shower.


Certain psychological situations tend to increase the amount of stress in people’s lives as well. These situations include lack of an outlet for frustration, lack of social support networks, unpredictability, lack of control or predictability and the perception that things are getting worse. People living in poverty also deal with a disproportionate amount of these sorts of situations. They often endure experiences such as numbing work on an assembly line, an occupational career spent taking orders or going from one temporary stint to the next, they are usually the first ones laid off when times are bad, and spend large portions of time wondering if money will last till the end of the month. An extreme example of loss of control was highlighted in a study where it was showed that working poor were less likely to take antihypertensive diuretics (drugs that lower blood pressure by making you urinate) because they weren’t allowed to go to the bathroom at work as often as they needed to when taking the drugs (Sapolsky 1998). Another psychological stressor that people in poverty deal with is a lack of outlets. Unlike people with a higher social economic status, they cannot go on a relaxing vacation when they are feeling stressed with life or bogged down by work. They can’t even get regular exercise by going for a jog at night because, statistically, a poor person is more likely to live in a crime-riddled neighborhood, and jogging may wind up being an extremely stressful event (Sapolsky 1998). Poverty also comes with a lack of social support. When everyone is doing everything they can just trying to survive, no one is going to have the time or energy to support their friends and relatives. Further evidence has been found that the emergence of a socioeconomic health gradient is not solely due to decreased access to health insurance. In England, a study was performed on more than 10,000 British civil servants over a wide range of workers,


including blue collar workers all the way up to high ranking executives (Susser, 1985). After controlling for other risk factors including smoking, hypertension and triglyceride levels in the blood, the study showed a four-fold increase in mortality rates when comparing the highest and lowest rungs of the system. Since England follows a universal health care system, this study strongly supports the view that access to health care is not the sole reason for disparities among disease frequencies based on socio economic status. There are several different factors and each contributes to the resulting poor health of individuals, especially children, living it poverty.

Policy Suggestions Changes in policy at several different levels of the medical system could potentially improve the SES health gradient. Since, the most devastating health effects of low-income living occur in utero and newborns, policy reforms should focus on situations involving deep and persistent poverty that occurs early in childhood. States should exempt families with young children from the time limits, sanctions and categorical restrictions that currently exist as a welfare regulation measure. Some states already do this; however, only for the first year or three months. The critical development period for a child is at least 2 years, suggesting that these restrictions should be waved for families with children under two. Parents should also receive child allowances or refundable tax credits based on their children’s ages. Food stamps for specific nutritional groceries could help to ensure that young children are receiving the proper nutrient intake for their specific stage in development.


Improvements in Health Care should be made to increase access as well as quality of care. Efforts to expand the coverage of Medicaid should continue with specific attention to educating low-income parents of its availability and coverage. Possible improvements in quality of care could occur through increased availability of after-hours care as well as helping to establish lasting doctor/patient relationships. Investment in parent’s education and environment could also be beneficial for their children’s growth and development. Programs directed at educating parents on the availability of health promoting factors, such as proper nutrition, and the dangers of health-decreasing factors, such as drinking while pregnant and smoking, would also be extremely beneficial. .

Family influence is very important in guiding every stage of children’s development. In poverty, the parents’ role becomes more challenging; they are faced with the increased stress associated with low-income living and they must utilize more demanding parenting techniques to assure that their children keep off the streets and remain in school. Certain parenting techniques have been studied that help keep children on the right path. However, each parent can only handle so much on his or her own. As a society, we need to refine our current social policies to help those living below the poverty line; ensuring the best possible development for all of today’s youth.

Effects on Development


The importance of parenting to children’s development is clear. Through their intimate contact at home and their lasting relationship throughout life, parents have a direct effect on their children’s social, emotional, and physical development. Adolescents who feel that their parents or guardians are caring, involved and accepting, are healthier, happier, and more competent than their peers, no matter how health, happiness or competence is assessed (Steinberg, 2002). In poverty, this relationship is even more crucial. It has been shown that positive relationships can help protect children born into poverty from many of the effects associated with low-income living (Blum and Rinehart, 2000). This is evident in cognitive development and academic functioning. The differences in cognitive and academic functioning between poor and non-poor children is at least partly the result of the academic and language stimulation that children receive at home. According the Greg Duncan, Professor of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, the amount of emotional support and cognitive stimulation in a child’s home environment accounts for one-third to one-half of the disadvantages in verbal, reading and math skills among persistently poor children in elementary and middle school (Consortium of Social Science Associations, 2004). Reading and talking to the child, teaching the child the alphabet, numbers and colors as well as having toys in the home that assist in learning are essential for normal cognitive development. Lowincome parents that can provide an educationally rich home environment for their children can promote future academic success. Disruption of the normal parenting process, due to poverty and economic strain, has also been shown to affect other aspects of development as well. Parents’ mental


health and marital relations are dramatically affected by economic strain, which in turn has a negative impact on their parenting techniques. Mothers who experience high levels of stress, especially economic stress, perceived parenting as more difficult and less satisfying (McLoyd, 1990). As parents become more stressed they become more irritable, less involved, less nurturing, harsher and less consistent in their discipline (McLoyd, 1990). They are also more likely to be embroiled in marital conflict (Steinberg, 2002). This puts adolescents at greater risk of psychological and behavior problems. The children are more likely to show an increase in anxiety, become aggressive, be depressed, have more frequent conduct problems and show diminished school performance (Conger et al., 1995; Taylor et al., 1997). When parents are financially stressed, they are also more likely to place increased household responsibility on the older children in the family (Steinberg, 2002). Since the parents often have to take on more than one job to survive they are forced to ask their oldest children to look after the younger ones since they are not able to stay at home and do it themselves. Also, the girls in the family tend to acquire cleaning, cooking and other household duties (Elder, 1974; Flanagan, 1990). This contributes to them developing more pessimistic expectations about their own occupational futures, since they may develop more traditional views and find it difficult to envision a satisfying career outside the home (Galambos & Silbereisen, 1987). Due to these increased responsibilities as a result of economic stress, boys are more likely to enter into conflicts, especially with their fathers (Elder et al., 1985; Flanagan 1990). They will often loose respect completely and challenge their authority, leading to further family conflict and unstable conditions.


Abuse and Neglect Child abuse and neglect is also significantly more prevalent in low income families. The federal government’s Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect compared families with an annual income of under $15,000 to families with an annual income over $30,000. They found that abuse is 14 times more common in poor families and neglect is 44 times more common in poor families (National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, 2004). Some people argue that child abuse is actually just as prevalent in upper class families, except they have better means to hide it from the authorities. This, however, is most likely not the case. It is well known that child abuse has been linked to stress and, as we have already discussed, poor families tend to be under more stress. Also, when studies are done only on groups that are equally open to public scrutiny, for example entirely on welfare recipients, the results show that those who abuse tend to be the poorest of the poor (Horowitz, 1981). Another explanation is the fact that the definition of neglect is more apt to apply to families living in poverty. According to the California State Penal Code, neglect is the “negligent failure of a person having the care or custody of a child to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision where no physical injury to the child has occurred” (California Statutes, 2004). By definition, this would include most children living in impoverished conditions. When parents are short on time, money and energy, which is often the case in poverty, they can’t provide immediate basic medical treatment, make sure that the fridge is always full of nutritious food and adequate clothing for the cold, rainy winter day. Changes in public policy must be made to


account for this and help parents better provide for their children, rather than immediately labeling their care as neglect and subsequently taking their children away.

Crime and Delinquency Increased rates of crime and delinquency are also evident in children growing up in poverty. The classical view of economic stress and crime is that shortage of money directly causes individuals to offend in order to acquire what they cannot afford to buy (Weatherburn & Lind, 1998). However, more recent findings suggest that this may not be the case. For example, the peak age for onset of criminal activity predates entry into the labor market by a large margin and, in some areas, it even predates entry into secondary school (Farrington et al. 1990). Also, poor areas tend to have higher rates of both acquisitive and non-acquisitive crimes, yet it is unclear why economic stress would motivate individuals to commit non-acquisitive crimes (Weatherburn & Lind, 1998). Therefore, it has been hypothesized that parenting is a mediating factor in the relationship between economic stress and delinquency. As we have already discussed, low-income parents are less likely to be nurturing, less likely to closely supervise their children and are more likely to engage in inconsistent, erratic and harsh discipline. And it has been proven that there is a strong relationship between poor parental supervision of children, inconsistent, harsh and erratic parental discipline and a weak parent-child bond with juvenile and adult involvement in crime (Weatherburn & Lind, 1998). Therefore, economic stress exerts at least part of its effects on crime by disrupting the parenting process.


Successful Parenting Techniques Although poverty often reflects negatively on the parenting process, techniques have been identified that help to prevent some of the adverse effects of growing up in poverty. The obstacles that youth face growing up in impoverished, inner-city neighborhoods such as the risk of becoming a high school dropout, a premature parent, a marginally employed adult, welfare recipient or even drug dealer and perpetrator of violence can be overcome with certain effective parenting techniques. Qualitative accounts of poor families and youth have illuminated parenting strategies that promote conventional development in even the worst of conditions. Some of the most at risk youth still go on to become high school, if not college, graduates and eventually become well employed stable family members. Effective parents use stringent monitoring strategies, seek out local and extra-local resources, and utilize in-home learning strategies to combat the deleterious effects of living in an inner-city neighborhood in impoverished conditions (Jarrett, 1999). Youth monitoring strategies are directed at protecting the child from negative influences by closely monitoring their time, space and friendships. The parents are strict with their children. They impose curfews and tight supervision, demanding to know their children’s whereabouts at all times. These parents scrutinize their children’s friends and associates carefully, rejecting those who seem to be up to no good and encouraging others who seem to be on their way to amounting to something. They’ll often have chaperone rules where their children must be accompanied on their daily rounds in the neighborhood by a parent, family friend or sibling. For example, a mother may send the younger brother along with the older brother to report on activities. In extreme cases,


parents may remove their child from the local neighborhood altogether and send them to live with relatives in another city. This will not only remove them the bad influence of the local neighborhood but may also give them access to better resources. Effective parents also use resource seeking strategies. These parents garner resources to promote their children’s development by seeking out the well-functioning local institutions and organizations that exist even in the poorest of communities. They target churches that sponsor scouting and tutoring programs, parochial and magnet schools that promote academic achievement and athletic programs that that support physical mastery and discipline. These parents make the effort to network with the right people to ensure that their children can take advantage of every opportunity that is out there, such as scholarships for underprivileged youth. Parents will even extend their search to outside the community as well. Kinship networks of grandparents, older siblings, godparents and other biological and fictive kin can provide broader opportunities for youths. Kin may be better off economically and provide access to resource rich communities that offer a wider array of institutional, informational, and economic assets, including well functioning schools. The third and final strategy that all effective parents utilize is an in-house learning strategy. They do everything they can to promote their adolescent’s development of academic skill and competencies at home. For example, they play word games and promote in-house literacy activities beginning in early childhood. Those parents who lack the literacy skills necessary to teach their children can turn to indirect methods such as making a deliberate point of complimenting each academic effort of their children such as report cards, special honors, or even satisfactory homework assignments. These


efforts are essential to keep youth attached to school authority, classroom routines, teacher directives and conventional peers.

Policy Suggestions Although these three strategies have shown immense potential to combat some of the deleterious effects of growing up in poverty, they require the parents to singlemindedly and single-handedly focus on the welfare of their teens, often at the expense of their own personal needs and goals. Basically, they require them to be super parents. Not all parents have the capabilities to provide these sorts of advantages for their children, as shown by the following quote from an inner city single mother: “I know he is out there [on the streets] when I’m at work. I don’t have any other way right now to have someone watch my children…I hope and pray that I taught him the right things, though. He knows too, that when I’m home he better be straight. The Lord only knows, I have to believe that what I taught him, the good I taught him, will bring him through and make him a good man.” This quote highlights the difficulties of trying to be a good parent while earning enough money to live at the same time. Each parent can only do so much. Efforts need to be made to help parents raise their children properly without requiring them to be super parents. More well-functioning, youth-serving institutions are needed, including good quality schools, youth programs, libraries, parks and other organizations that provide enriching developmental contexts for youth. Increased job and economic opportunities would also provide an alternative to the street lifestyle and provide valuable learning experiences for youth. In addition, economically stable neighbors could serve as mentors, role models and supportive co-parents for local youth.


Policy changes must be made to improve early development as well. For younger children, increased availability of quality childcare would help parents ensure conventional development, especially for single mothers. Childcare is necessary to allow them to earn a respectable living and could help promote early education, leading to proper cognitive and social development. The current childcare profession suffers from three serious problems: low wages, lack of adequate training and a high staff turnover (Consortium of Social Science Associations, 2004). More federal money is needed to improve the quality of care, as well as access to care, for low-income families. This may be done by mandating more quality requirements for childcare programs, requiring more formalized training and increasing child care wages. Another interesting tactic to enhance the quality of care given by impoverished parents would be to encourage marital success. There has been a well-documented decline in the number of traditional nuclear families in the United States over the past few decades. From 1970-1998 the proportion of children living in two-parent families fell from 85.2 percent to 61.8 percent and children living in female headed families increased from 10.8 percent to 23.3 percent (U.S. Census Bureau). The poverty rate among single-parent families is more than four times that among two-parent families due to characteristics that disproportionately predispose them to poverty, such as earning potential and work opportunities available to them (Thomas & Sawhill 2001). A shift share analysis, performed by Adam Thomas, a Senior Research Analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., suggests that had the proportion of children living in single-parent families remained constant since 1970, the 1998 child poverty rate would have been 4.4 percentage points lower than its actual 1998 level of 18.3 percent (Thomas


& Sawhill 2001). An additional analysis performed by Thomas, in which marriages were simulated between single mothers and demographically similar, unrelated males, produced similar results. In this case the child poverty rate would have been 3.4 percentage points lower than its actual 1998 level. This second analysis took into account the possibility of shortage of marriageable men, and controlled for unobservable differences between married men and women and their unmarried counterparts. Based on these results, policies designed to engender marriage among single parents could have a considerable effect on child poverty. However, it is difficult to change family formation patterns through social policy. Therefore, as a society, we must emphasize the importance Planned Parenthood and lifelong partners. The importance of developing more effective policies to guide parents living in poverty is crucial. No other factor seems to influence adolescent adjustment more than the quality of his or her relationship at home, especially with their parents (Steinberg, 2002).

Children of families whose income falls below the 200 percent of the federal poverty level have been found to be well below average on their reading, math, and general knowledge test scores. Such disparities are especially noticeable when compared to children in families with an income over 300 percent the federal poverty level that have well-above average scores on similar tests (Gershoff, 2003). These children’s lack of academic achievement is not solely based on their intellectual capabilities. While it would be easy to say that they are less intelligent, that is not the case. There is actually a wide ranges of factors that attribute to a child’s


performance in school. Some of these factors include their familial involvement, physical and mental health, readiness for school, and learning environment. However, it is the socioeconomic status (SES) of a child’s family that has been found to be one of the most powerful influences on educational achievement (Steinberg, 2002). While the gap in school achievement between youth in families of different SES has been reduced, many disparities between social classes remain strong and substantial across all ethnic groups (Kao & Tienda, 1998). Studies consistently show that middle class students score higher on basic tests of academic skill, earn higher grades in school, and complete more years of schooling than do the working and lower-class peers (Kao & Tienda, 1998). Why does this occur? Children from lower socioeconomic levels are more likely to enter into elementary school with lower test scores on basic academic competence (Kao & Tienda, 1998). When starting off in elementary school, the gap between the middle and lower class children may not be tremendous; however, this gap widens over the years of primary and secondary schooling. Each year of schooling builds off a strong foundation of academic skills from the prior year. When one is already behind in the beginning process of schooling, it is can be difficult to catch up. The educational preparation a child has received outside of school from family members, the community, and peers is also important for the youth’s educational achievement. Environmental conditions that surround a child are very important to their learning; it is not just a product of the quality of school that is attended, or genetics. Do children have enough food, a place to do their homework, glasses if they cannot see, or books to read in their home? Without such resources, many children living in poverty


begin school with an academic disadvantage. This weak foundation of academic skills can cause them to fall behind quickly and potentially lose their motivation to learn. This then causes the disparity in academic achievement to worsen throughout their educational career.

Parental Influences Children in families with greater SES grow up in more favorable conditions, with better nutrition, adequate food, and better health care and resources. In addition, they tend to inherit a higher IQ from their parents (Teachman, 1996). Children whose parents have limited education are very likely to live in low-income families. For example, 83 percent of children whose parents lacked a high school degree lived in low-income families, while 53 percent of children whose parents obtained a high school degree lived in low-income families. Furthermore, only 23 percent of children with college-educated parents lived in low-income families (Lu, Palmer, & Song, 2003). Some studies also suggest parents from higher social classes are more likely to be involved in their children’s education, especially through school programs like the Parent and Teachers Association (PTA). The parental involvement in children’s schooling is difficult for low-income families. This is due to the fact that the majority of poor young children are living in working families. There are just 16% of children in poverty that do not have an employed parent (Lu & Koball, 2003). Most of the employed parents must work many hours in low paying jobs and often hold more than one job at a time. It is hard for these parents to be able to devote very much time to various aspects of their children’s schooling. Children whose parents are more involved in their schooling have


been found to perform better than those children whose parents are not (Nord, Brimhall & West, 1997). This highlights the necessity of parental involvement in education as another way in which children of higher social classes may achieve more in school than their disadvantaged counterparts.

Class Disparities Additionally, parents of higher socioeconomic status have greater amounts of economic stability. Thus, they are able to provide their children with the incomparable capital and resources compared with families living in poverty. From tutoring to encyclopedias, computers to providing after-school programs, such events funded by cultural capital have been found to be an important contributor to school success (Roscigno & Ainsworth-Darnell, 1999). Low socioeconomic levels can impair a child’s performance in school by limiting the resources necessary, both within the family and within schools (National Research Council, 1993). While family wealth has been identified as an important factor in educational achievements, it is also important to look at the quality of schools. In a comparative study of two schools in New York City, Jonathon Kozol points to inequalities in the school system that perpetuates or even increase class differences (Kozol, 1991). The two schools in the Kozol’s book entitled Savage Inequalities are mere examples of the large disparities that emerge in public schools serving poor neighborhoods verses those schools attend by children in middle and upper class neighborhoods. As the principle of the lowincome school stated, “These are the kids most in need, and they get the worst teachers.” Teacher qualification is not the only discrepancy that was seen upon comparing the two


schools. In the low-income school, textbooks were scare, there was no playground to hold recess, no ventilation system, over-crowded rooms, a meager 700 books in the library compared to 8,000 books in the higher-income school, and the list goes on. Is this fair? This type of lack of resources in schools in low-income neighborhoods does not just occur in the two schools highlighted in Kozol’s book. It has been found that the richest school districts in America spend 56 percent more per student than do the poorest schools, which account for the fewer books, supplies and less experienced teachers that effect large numbers of poor children around the country (Edelman, 2002).

Neighborhood Effects In taking a closer look at neighborhoods, the type of neighbors a low-income family has can also be associated with their children’s academic skills. A study found that the presence of poor neighbors (rather absence of affluent neighbors) places adolescents in impoverished communities at greater academic risk. (Ensminger, 1996)

Overriding Disadvantages Several findings suggest that a certain factor can override some of the various disadvantages facing children from low-income families. This factor is social support for their educational and academic achievement. This can be found in warm and encouraging parents that have interest in their children’s progress in academics and hold high aspirations for their children’s educational attainment (Brody, Stoneman, & Flor, 1995), in addition to peers or other adults who support and encourage academic success


(Steinberg, 1996). An example of this can be seen in the study of Southeast Asian refugee families living in the United States. Even though most of these people are poor, have limited exposure to Western culture, know very little English, and live in lowincome metropolitan areas, these children are excelling in U.S. schools (Chaplan, Choy, & Whitmore, 1992). Researchers examining this population found that parental encouragement and the pivotal role of the family accounted for some of the academic success of these children.

Drop-Out Rates As children age and move through the school system, the possibility for dropping out of school is a significant problem. Those adolescents that leave high school before they graduate are more likely to come from families with lower socioeconomic levels, poor communities, non-demanding families and households in which little reading material has been available (Poung & Ju, 2000). The choice to dropout of high school has debilitating effects. Because educational attainment is a powerful predictor of adult occupational success and earning, dropping out of school ultimately has a negative effects on the future of their lives. High school drop-outs have been found to be far more likely than high school graduates to live at or near the federal poverty level, to experience unemployment, to depend on government subsidized income programs, to become pregnant during the teenage years, and to be involved in delinquent and criminal activity (Manlove, 1998; Rumberger, 1995). In looking at the trends in dropout rates in 2001, 11 percent of people aged 16-24 had dropped out of high school, compared to 15 percent in 1972 (Moore, 2003). Males


were more likely drop out of high school with 12 percent, compared to females with a 9 percent dropout rate. The high school dropout rates for whites in 2001 were 7 percent, while the dropout rate for Black (non-Hispanic) high school youth reached a historic low of 11 percent (Moore, 2003). However, the dropout rate for Hispanics continues to be higher than both blacks and whites. While dropout rates for Hispanics has declined since 1972 from 34 percent to 27, it differs among what generation the youth belongs to. For example, Hispanics born outside of the United States had a dropout rate that was nearly three times that of first generation of Hispanics born inside of the United States (Moore, 2003). It is important to note that much variation occurs between socioeconomic status and educational achievement and attainment. It is not true to say that all children from high-income families will automatically have higher levels of educational achievement compared with those from poor, disadvantaged families. There are youth from highincome families who drop out of high school and do not move on to college. Likewise, there are children living in poverty that go on to college. Unfortunately, moving on to college and graduate school is not something that occurs for the majority of children living in poverty.

Interventions Interventions have been designed to help improve the educational achievement of children living in very poor families that may be at high risk for academic failure because of their poverty status. Studies have found that children participating in interventions during preschool, alongside or not alongside participation in an intervention during


elementary school, perform significantly better in school during adolescence than those who did not participate in the preschool intervention (Campbell & Ramsey, 1995). However, those children who participated in the elementary school intervention, without participating in the preschool intervention, did not improve their performance in school. Therefore, it is important to note that earlier interventions are more effective. Knowing this timing and effectiveness of programs is important for future interventions. In order to improve academic achievement for underprivileged youth, programs must be initiated as early in development as possible. Preschool interventions help build the strong foundation necessary for children entering elementary school. Some national preschool programs that have been designed to aid in early intervention include: Head Start, Even Start and Parent-Child Home Program. The Head Start program provides pre-kindergarten and child-care programs to children from disadvantaged families. This program is not only successful in increasing children’s school readiness skills, but it has also been found to have long-term effects (Zill, 2003). A number of research studies have found some of the long-term effects of Head Start to include increased graduation rates and decreased crime rates as adults (Graces, Thomas & Currie, 2002). Another early intervention program that has been implemented for youth in disadvantaged areas is Even Start. By improving educational opportunities for lowincome families, Even Start is intended to help break the cycle of poverty. Rather than solely focusing on youth, Even Start involves the entire family with the educational programs so that parents can also make changes that will help their children. Through interventions such as parenting skills, job search strategies, and early childhood


education, Even Start is oriented towards the heath of families as a whole. The reason why this program focuses on the family at a broader level is the fact that children’s learning is seen as dependent on both the health and success of their families. Starting with the parents and familial settings will enable children to make strides in the learning sector. Another early interventional program is the Parent-Child Home Program. This is a home-based, 2-year program that is designed to strengthen the cognitive development of low-income children between 2 and 4 years old. This program provides home-based stimulation twice a week, in which a trained professional engages children in verbal and educational conversations and games. This program was created in hopes of enhancing the cognitive development of children that will prepare them for schooling, and in turn, aid in life long educational success. Educational disparities between middle class students and those living below the National poverty level exist and are a very important issue when addressing the effects of poverty on child development. These disparities are not solely a genetic problem to which there is no solution. They are a result of a lack of a combination of developmental necessities, which continuously worsen the situation throughout development. The early intervention programs that were spoken of have been extremely successful at decreasing the educational disparity between middle class students and those living below the National poverty level. More national funding needs to be made available to develop similar programs across the country.


Another factor effecting the development of youth in poverty is the issue of delinquent behavior. Studies have shown that adolescents growing up in poor neighborhoods are more likely to engage in a range of antisocial behaviors, including crime, delinquency, and violence (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn. 2000). Various mechanisms have been suggested as to why neighborhood poverty can have adverse affects on the behavior of youth. Some researchers suggest that youth living in poor neighborhoods are more likely to become deviant and partake in criminal activity because they are in contact with deviance more often than wealthier peer groups (Simons, 1996). It is also believed that youth growing up in poor neighborhoods are far more likely to be exposed to repeated incidences of violence, which increases the risk of behavioral problems. One study compared urban elementary school children living in low-violence neighborhoods to children in high-violence neighborhoods (Hill & Jones, 1997). This study found over 75 percent of children living in the high-violence neighborhood had been exposed to community violence including homicide, stabbing, physical assault, and gang violence. Neighborhood violence is often closely associated with gangs. While members of gangs represent only a small portion of the youth population, they commit the majority of serious youth violence (Howell, 1998). Gangs have historically been associated with inner-city neighborhoods in major cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles. However, today, gangs are not solely based in major cities, but have spread across the United States to rural, small towns, and suburban areas (Egley, 2002). Statistics show that street gangs


can be found in 94 percent of all U.S. cities with populations greater than 100,000 (Klein, 1995).

Crime and Death The relationship of gangs and homicides is a very relevant issue pertaining to youth health. Membership in a street gang increases one’s risk of violent death by 60 percent, with an estimated 80-95 percent of gangFigure 1: Slain Gang Member. Source: World Health Organization

related homicides coming from firearms (Huston, Anglin, Hart & Mallion, 1992). The Seattle Social Development Project is just one of the many studies that compares youth that are involved in gangs with youth who are non-gang members. (Hill, Howel,

Hawkins & Pearson, 1999) The study found gang members engage in more delinquent behavior than peers who are not in gangs. Gang members also committed assault, robbery, breaking and entering, felony theft, using and selling drugs, and are arrested more often then those not in gangs (Hill, 1999).

Risk Factors Involved Most researchers agree that violence and aggression among youth are strongly linked to poverty for a number of reasons. The study of Seattle youth suggests that there are predictors, or risk factors, that make youth more likely to join a gang and subsequently partake in delinquent behavior. Some of the main risk factors include living in a single parent household, being learning disabled, having low academic achievement, neighborhood youth in trouble, early marijuana use and antisocial beliefs. High risk


youth, experiencing seven or more of the risk factors, are 13 times more likely to join a gang than youth’s experiencing no risk factors (Hill, Lui & Hawkins, 2001). Most of these risk factors are often found in low income neighborhoods. Such information helps explain why poor neighborhoods can be considered problematic for youths. Additionally, concentrated poverty upsets the social fabric of a neighborhood, making it more difficult for adults and social institutions to provide the guidance and supervision that are necessary for conventional adolescent development (Sampson, 1992). Poor neighborhoods have been found to breed social isolation and social disorganization (Sampson, 1997). This involves a weakening of social organization and social control that undermines a neighborhood’s sense of trust and cohesion with the community. Low levels of social cohesion amongst members of a community have been linked to higher rates of youth violence (World Health Organization, 2002). Additionally repeated exposure to violence in the community, whether it is in the home or in the neighborhood, also brings forth violence (DuRant, 1994). The presence of gangs in poor neighborhoods can provide youth with a sense of belonging, protection from existing violence, and material possessions that poor youth may not be able to provide themselves with on their own. Studies have found that youth in neighborhoods with scarce resources and high levels of social disorganization have a greater probability of joining a gang (Thornberry, 1998). Higher rates of youth violence are also observed. Another risk factor for youth violence and gangs involves family disorganization. Who is supervising the children when parents are at work? Are youth involved in afterschool activities, rather than hanging around the streets? Despite working multiple jobs


throughout the day, can parents develop solid relationships with their children? These are just some of the various questions that must be looked at closely to help ensure that youth do not turn to the street to take care of themselves. When there is low parental monitoring, low family involvement, poor relationships and parental conflict, youths may easily be lured into joining a “family” formed by members of a gang (Thornberry, 1998). Even when parents are involved in their children’s lives, their children still may be at risk of joining a gang. Studies have shown that when living in impoverished neighborhoods, parents are less effective in nurturing and monitoring their children; this diminished effectiveness leads to increased aggression and crime (Sampson & Laub, 1994). Studies have also found that poor school performance and low educational expectations put youth at greater risks for joining a gang and/or being involved in violence. Amongst many of the individual risk factors, two of the major predictors of joining a gang involve residence in a gang-infested neighborhood, and having an older sibling or family member whom is already a member of a gang (Klein, 1995). Because gangs in many cities are thought of as sources of protection from the existing violence in the streets, it can be easy for gangs to lure in new young members.

Drugs Gang members are also more likely to be involved in the drug trade. Drug markets provide work for the unemployed, and the popularity of crack cocaine has created new opportunities for gang members to make money. Because the distribution of crack cocaine coincided with the increase in youth gang violence, the two seemed to be


interrelated (Decker& Van Winkle, 1996). Elijah Anderson’s book entitled, Code of the Streets, looks at the violence and moral life of inner-city youth in Philadelphia, and helps to explain this interrelated phenomenon drugs and violence (Anderson, 1999) By selling drugs, they [youth] have a chance to put more money into their pockets than they could get by legal means, and they can present themselves to peers as hip, in sharp contrast to the square image of those who work in place like McDonald’s and wear silly uniforms… Some boys crave the status associated with being a deal. They want to wear the beeper, to be seen to be “clocking,” to be associated with something hip and lucrative, even though it is something it is an underground enterprise. Drug dealers are living the fast life; they are living on the edge. (Anderson, p 114)

However, this status as a drug dealer is not as illustrious as many poor youth make it out to be. For example, studies have found that violence often overlaps with youth gangs actively involved in drugs (Howell & Decker, 1999). More specifically the drug distribution systems in which violence tends to occur are in areas that are socially disorganized, lack social control, have high rates of violence, and are economically disadvantaged (Collins, 1990). Unfortunately, these are similar to the impoverished areas and neighborhoods inhabited by youth in low-income families. After comprehensive studies were released of Los Angeles Youth Gangs, researchers concluded, “gang members are heavy drug users and even heavier drug sellers than non-gang youth, yet drugs and gangs are not two halves of the same phenomenon” (Reiner, 1992). In interviews with gang specialists in U.S. cities, law enforcement agencies reported 16 percent of gangs to be “drug gangs” (Klein 1995). In spite of that, membership of such gangs can be very large and responsible for a significant proportion of violence and drug sales in some cities.


Stereotypical Beliefs Despite common belief, poor communities are not the only areas in which youth join gangs and/or violence occurs. Take a look at Columbine, Colorado, the location of one of the deadliest school shootings the United States has ever seen. This occurred in what was deemed a quiet upper-middle class neighborhood. Or, what about the school violence that occurred in Granada Hills, California? People of all classes, all races and all ages are at risk for community violence. It is important for us to restate that this paper is not saying that crime and gangs only occur in communities and to children in lowincome families. However, we are trying to paint a picture of the ongoing issues that surround children who face poverty on a daily basis.

Personal Account From my own personal experiences, I have seen many signs of this stereotype running through my quiet middle-class neighborhood in the Bay Area. This information was not a part of any scientific study; it is simply various observations that I have experienced in my community and high school. In high school, I remember many of my classmates coming to school in their beautiful new cars and sheik, new clothes. It seemed to me that the majority of my classmates were not too worried about money. With drinking and parties on the weekend, I knew some of my classmates also had the money and a supply of drugs to choose from. While very little violence ever broke out, I never heard of any case in which one of my classmates was ever arrested for drug use. I do not feel as if anybody from the “outside” truly knew this was going on to the extent that it was.


Nonetheless, I know that drugs were easily accessible around my high school campus and in my town. On the other hand, there was another high school about 15 minutes away from my high school, in a more upper-class area. I always used to read about numerous drug raids both from media resources and from word of mouth. Because the majority of teens in this area had a lot of money, drug trafficking had become a distinct and visible problem. I remember reading a story in the newspaper about police officers that posed as high school students wanting to buy drugs. This enabled police to identify the perpetrators and follow through with the necessary arrests. While there were no visible gangs in my school, I am sure you could find some in schools and on the streets just a couple miles to the east of my town. From my own point of view, I feel that gangs, drugs and violence can be found not only in poor communities but in any area in the United States. It seems that in many cases, gangs and drugs are more easily concealed in the middle class areas. If violence does occur here, it may just include the occasional petty theft or minor fights. However, gangs in low-income communities deal with more obvious forms gang pride, exhibited through clothing and various visible signs, in addition to having more visible forms of violence such as killings and robberies. While I am not an expert, these are just mere observations from a spectator and student researcher’s point of view.

Prevention Despite the widespread emergence of gangs across the United States, there are still things that can be done to prevent youth from joining gangs, as well as ways to get


existing members out. Howell, a researcher on prevention methods for gang violence, suggests that interventions should include multiple components including prevention, social intervention, treatment, suppression and community mobilization approaches (Howell, 1998). The Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America program, funded by the United Way Foundation, brings together adult volunteers with school age children. The children are primarily from single-parent households, and are paired up with adults for mentoring services. With interactions between “Big” members with the “little” youth through various activities, these services provide mentors for these children. A lot of times, it is hard for children in low-income communities to find positive adult role models to look up to. Thanks to this program helps youth build their confidence, social skills and future goals. An additional example of a prevention/ intervention program can be found at the YMCA. The YMCA is devoted to building strong kids, strong families, and strong communities. With 2,400 YMCA’s around the county, each YMCA offers different programs and events to the communities that they serve. Specifically, one of the YMCA’s in San Diego has developed a juvenile delinquency prevention and early intervention program called PRYDE. PRYDE targets youths aged eight to fifteen that are at high risk for drug and/or gang activity. Serving low-income neighborhoods, PRYDE provides youth with a safe, after-school environment, in addition to educating parents on healthy lifestyles. A parent survey conducted in June of 1995 found 52% of youth involved in PRYDE improved school performance, 41% improved family relations and 84% improved peer relationships (YMCA). 99% of the parents also stated that their


children had not engaged in youth activity, and 98% said their children had remained drug-free during their participation. Another intervention for at-risk youth is Jobs for the Future. Based in East Los Angles, Jobs for the Future has been effective in providing many resources for at risk youth. As part of the Homeboys Industry, Jobs for a Future is a center in which gang members and at-risk youth can find assistance with job training and placement, tattoo removal, counseling, community service opportunities, and case management services. Along with the guidance of Father Gregory Boyle, their motto, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job,” brings forth the spirit of this service center. The majority of the time it is hard for some of these youth to find jobs with their past history and with their lack of experience. However, Jobs for a Future aids in training for employment as well as helps place youth in employment positions. Additionally, several ventures have been launched to provide more jobs, including: Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy Landscaping, Homeboy Graffiti Removal Services, and even Homeboy Merchandise. Such businesses provide real jobs for at-risk youth as an alternative and legal way of making money, in hopes of redirecting the lives of these youth. The success and effectiveness of this program suggests that it can and should be replicated in other cities around the country.

In the 1950’s and 60’s the number of people living in poverty declined from 22 percent to 12.1 percent (US Census Bureau, 2002). Since then, the number of people livening in poverty has remained relatively stable. However, the recent economic downturn has resulted in an increase in the number of families that are at risk of falling


below the federal poverty level. Considering the deleterious effects of poverty discussed above, the necessity to reform existing policy in addition to developing new policies is imminent. With a better understanding of the various aspects effecting youth in low-income families and through analyses of current interventions, we hope to shed light on future policy decisions. There are currently numerous effective intervention programs around the country that can and should be duplicated to aid in the fight against child poverty. However, there are also several problems that require new and innovative policy interventions in order to improve the current developmental environment of impoverished youth. Proper child development is crucial for future success in life. In order to break the poverty cycle, we must provide youth with an enriching environment in which they can undergo proper physical, social and emotional development.



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