Poverty Matters

A common refrain from education reformers of the past decade has been “poverty doesn’t matter.” In this narrative, being poor is a simple obstacle to overcome by heightened expectations, a no-excuses mentality, and a little more hard work.

But the stark reality is, the story is far more complex. Every day we are learning more about how poverty adversely affects a child’s growth, development, academic achievement, and long-term life success.

Here is just a small sample of what we know:

  • Children born into poverty are more likely to be born at a low birth weight, putting them at risk for long-term motor and social development delays.
  • More than 45 percent of children in poverty in 2013 lived in food insecure homes. Child hunger has been linked to lower academic achievement, social and behavioral problems, increased hospitalization, and physical and intellectual development impairments.
  • The “toxic stress” experienced by children in poverty, especially in early childhood, can disrupt brain development and lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.
  • Persistently poor children are 13 percent less likely to complete high school by age 20, 29 percent less likely to enroll in postsecondary education by age 25, and 43 percent less likely to complete a four-year college degree by age 25. They are also 37 percent less likely to be consistently employed as young adults than those that experienced poverty on a non-persistent basis.

And it’s not just economic poverty that hurts our nation’s children. A recent report from America’s Promise Alliance details the “relationship poverty” – a lack of access and connection to people who can help them to a more promising future – that ultimately leads many students to become disconnected from school. So not only do these students lack access to the basic resources so many of us take for granted, they also miss out on the critical social capital that helps their wealthier peers get ahead in school and life.

The enormous deficits poor students must overcome to succeed cannot be ignored or simply solved away with trendy reforms. What these students and their families need are resources and opportunities from day one. In order to make this happen, we need to make sure the conversation starts and ends by acknowledging the challenge of poverty – not pretending it doesn’t exist.

In coming weeks this blog will continue to explore the effects of poverty on children and how it impacts our schools and communities. It will address issues ranging from the latest research on the effects of poverty to the ways schools and communities are working to meet the needs of low-income students and improve their life outcomes. To join in this critical conversation, please subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on social media, and check back for bi-weekly updates.