Cause and Effect of Poverty on Society, Child Development and Student Success

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American billionaire, businessman, computer programmer, and philanthropist, Bill Gates, once said, 'I believe that if you show people the problems and you show them the solutions they will be moved to act.' Therefore, it is my duty to introduce to you the pressing matter of poverty, detailing just how it affects students all over the United States, and offer a few solutions with hopes that you will be so moved to go out and act.

Poverty, generally speaking, can be defined as a state in which an individual or group does not attain an income adequate to satisfy basic needs (Price, 2017). However, in 'The Effects of Poverty on the Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Health of Children and Youth: Implications for Prevention', poverty is broken down further into three subcategories: absolute poverty, relative poverty, subjective poverty, and asset poverty. A person living in absolute poverty cannot afford necessities, including but not limited to safe and sufficient housing, food, clean water, and access to healthcare. A person living in 'relative poverty' can afford the things they need, but still, do not live up to their nation's average standard of living. This group typically falls anywhere between fifty to sixty percent below the national median household income. A person living in subjective poverty is not living within the means of their own expectations and depends on how a person or a family define themselves. A person living asset poverty is one who does not have enough net worth to cover three months of living without receiving any income (Yoshikawa, Aber, and Beardslee, 2012).

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In 'Teaching with Poverty in Mind', Eric Jensen went on to further evaluate the term 'poverty' and came up with four more subcategories: situational poverty, generational poverty, urban poverty, and rural poverty and some cause and effect of poverty on society. Situational poverty is when a sudden event places a person or group into poverty. These sudden events may include divorce, natural disasters, health, etc. Generational poverty is when at least two generations of a family have been born into poverty. A person or group living in rural poverty lives in an area with a population below 50,000 people. These individuals or groups often have less access to services and employment opportunities and are typically exposed to lower quality education. The final type of poverty, urban poverty (the type of which is the focus of this paper) includes those that live in poverty in an area of at least 50,000 people and often depend on city government services. This group of people often deal with issues such as overcrowding, noise, and violence (Jensen, 2009).

Children living in poverty are more likely to be neglected of many things necessary to their development during the early years of life such as safe, established homes, reliable care, challenging enrichment, and the establishment of attunement, which is the imperative process of teaching children appropriate responses to others' emotional states; responses such as sympathy and empathy are included (Price, 2017). This leads to disruptive behaviors that are often seen as rude and disrespectful.

Students living in poverty are more vulnerable to being affected by stressors than children that come from more well-off backgrounds. In 'Life Stress and Health: A Review of Conceptual Issues and Recent Findings', George M. Slavich1 simply defines stressors as 'that which produces stress' (Slavich1, 2016). Some examples of common stressors are health issues, like malnutrition, and safety issues, like violence or subpar living conditions. Thomas D. Matte and David E. Jacobs' research in 'Housing and Health- Current Issues and Implications for Research and Programs', exhibited that subpar living conditions can lead to respiratory diseases, amongst other health issues. Because those living in poverty typically only have access to insufficient healthcare, health problems sometimes go untreated, which often leads to students being absent from school for long periods in the event of a health hiccup. Nonetheless, some students still manage to make it to school. However, the performance of these students is customarily effected (Price, 2017).

Poverty also has detrimental effects on students' nutrition. Areas defined as 'low-income' are more susceptible to be classified as 'food deserts' than higher-income areas. In 'Food Deserts: What is the Problem? What is the Solution?' by James D. Wright and colleagues, food deserts are defined as 'areas (neighborhoods, census tracts, communities, etc.) that lack access to healthy, nutritious and affordable food' which are typically concentrated within low-income, or minority communities (Wright, 2016). Within these areas, 'grocery stores' are usually limited to convenience stores and 'restaurants' are usually limited to fast food eateries. Due to this fact, students are more likely to contract illnesses and diseases like hypertension and high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, etc. For females, later in life, poor nutrition could lead to insufficient weight gain and an overall unhealthy pregnancy, which may lead to the delivery of underweight, or premature babies, babies that unfortunately have lower survival rates (Pena˜ and Bacallao, 2002).

According to an article in neaToday, 'The Enduring Importance of Parental Involvement', research shows that parental involvement encourages student achievement, reduces student absences, and helps parents to have higher confidence in their child's education. It goes on to say that students with involved caregivers tend to earn higher grades, score better or tests, have better social skills and behave better (Garcia and Thornton, 2014).

Parents in low-income homes usually play a less active role than their more affluent counterparts because with so many other contributing stressors, parents' primary concern is likely, understandably, keeping a roof over the family's head and keeping food on the table. Due to some of the previously mentioned factors like insufficient healthcare, parents may be ill or not around, in which case the child must take on the role of 'head of the house', to ensure not only their survival but the survival of their family members as well. This oftentimes leaves these students with no one to read to them, quiz/drill them, or help them with homework and projects (Price, 2017).

Many children living in poverty suffer from a lack of exposure, an exposure that their more fortunate peers gain a lot more easily and at an earlier age. It is a well-known fact that children are more motivated to learn when information is being taught through fun, exciting processes. This can be done by the incorporation of games, pneumonic devices, creative activity and field trips outside of the classroom (Price, 2017).

Mentioned previously, most children living in poverty experience very minimal parental support. Therefore, adolescents in low-income families have little to no chance of being taken to aquariums, museums, and other educational venues that allow children to have fun and also encourage learning, outside of school trips. While schools could salvage their students' chances of gaining exposure by taking children on field trips, using exciting learning tools, and providing extracurricular classes and activities, as aforementioned, schools in high poverty areas typically do not receive an equal share of state funds (Price, 2017).

Unfortunately, this leads to numerous aspects being cut out of the budgets of schools with the number one program leaving schools almost always being extracurricular classes. Extracurricular classes take students' minds out of the classroom and into other worlds. These classes include foreign language classes that give students the opportunity to learn a new language and become bilingual or multilingual, music classes which studies have shown to increase nonverbal reasoning skills, reading skills, and motor skills, and an enormous deal of other classes that enhance students' minds and also allow them to learn about other cultures around the world while doing so (Price, 2017).

Also affected by budget cuts and unequal funding is the quality of the classroom. Teaching methods do not work in a 'one size fits all' fashion because every student learns differently. Most methods of learning can be categorized under the three learning styles-- visual learning, auditory learning, and kinesthetic learning. Teachers, ideally, have tools that allow them to acknowledge each students' learning styles. Lack of funds, however, causes teachers to have insufficient materials to teach with, provoking unexciting, ineffective teaching.

Because students hailing from higher-income families tend to attend schools in lower poverty regions, those students not only one-up students who come from low-income families due to fun, educational outings with parents at early ages, but also two-up these students due to the schools that they attend receiving adequate funds from the state (Price, 2017).

With so many factors that seem to point to the undeniable failure of these students, it may seem that nothing can be done to help. However, there are a few things that educators can do within their classrooms, even without the equal funding that should be a guarantee to all schools.

Creating a positive classroom culture is one of these things. This can be achieved by including character-building lessons and lessons on manners and proper etiquette in the hidden curriculum, teaching and modeling respect and compassion, and striving to make learning as captivating and exciting as possible, starting with the educator him/herself being enthusiastic to teach.

Fostering meaningful relationships with students (and if possible, their families) will also prove to be beneficial, as it will establish trust and respect between the two (or three) parties. This will help the student to enjoy coming to school more, knowing that he/she has a safe space and a person to talk to.

Hold students to high expectations and standards. Encourage them to set goals and assist them in formulating plans to help them reach these goals. Model goal-setting by sharing personal goals and plans with students, and then following through with them. Always expect the absolute best from students, and, with compassion, hold them accountable when they fall short.

Most of all, each and every day, instill positive affirmations into each and every child. Let them know that, regardless of where they've come from, or where they may be, they can achieve anything they put their minds to.


  1. Garcia, L. E., & Thornton, O. (2014, November 18). The Enduring Importance of Parental Involvement. In neaToday. Retrieved from
  2. Jensen, E. (2009). Teaching With Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It (pp. 5-45). Alexandria: ASCD.
  3. Pena, M., & Bacallao, J. (2002). Malnutrition and Poverty. Annual Reviews of Nutrition, 22, 241-253. Doi:10.1146
  4. Price, B. D. (2017). Poverty Failed Us: How Poverty contributed to the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal and Achievement Gap
  5. Slavich, G. M. (2016). Life Stress and Health: A Review of Conceptual Issues and Recent Findings. Teaching of Psychology, 43(4), 346–355.
  6. Wright, James & Donley, Amy & Gualtieri, Marie & Strickhouser, Sara. (2016). Food Deserts: What is the Problem? What is the Solution?. Society, 53. doi: 10.1007/s12115016
  7. Yoshikawa, H., Aber, J. L., & Beardslee, W. R. (2012). The effects of poverty on the mental, emotional, and behavioral health of children and youth: Implications for prevention. American Psychologist, 67(4), 272-284. doi:10.1037/a0028015

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