Poverty Compounds Troubles for Children in Immigrant Families

November 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

Children born into immigrant families often live in a scarier world then most of us. Aggression against their families flares in our country and is institutionized in the department of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE deported 46,000 parents in the first six months of this year according to researcher Seth Freed Wessler speaking to Democracy Now. When parents are deported or detained their US born children often enter the foster care system and sometimes never see their mother and father again. This is the subject of a new study called Shattered Families. Immigrant children also may be living with abuse. Women in abusive relationships can be afraid to seek help because they fear deportation and lack social support. In some cultures more than 40% of women are subject to domestic violence

This isn’t a blog about deportation, domestic violence or immigration but this context is important in understanding the special hardship children in immigrant families face when they also endure poverty. 4.2 million kids in immigrant families are in poverty and their experience is uniquely hard because so many of those families can’t get food stamps or low income health insurance because of law and bias. 

Since the mid 2000’s poverty rates for immigrant families have increased the most in Suburban areas across the country. Suburbs aren’t often prepared to deliver poverty support much less poverty support to foreign born families. Outside of cultural and language differences other differences distinguish immigrant families from native born poor. They’re more apt to be a married couple with children and more often include a family member that’s working full time but not earning enough to support the household according to an August study from the Brookings Institution. For exact figures on immigrant poverty in your state and a fuller explanation of the issue read that study.  It may help you understand why so many people are working hard for fairer treatment of our immigrant neighbors.

Uninsured America Nearing Majority in Many Communities

October 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

Greece and it’s debt woes moved the stock market, Iraq and our involvement was on the news every day yet the populations of those two countries added together are smaller than the number of uninsured in the USA in 2010.  That number, 49.9 million and 16.3% , climbed in the opening decade of the 21st century. What impact is that having on our society and our communites and why aren’t we doing more to treat the uninsured?

The consequences of an uninsured epidemic are every bit as grave as war. Tragically, high numbers of uninsured increase mortality. New studies from Harvard Medical School show that someone dies from lack of health insurance every 12 minutes. Nearly 45,000 people die in America each year because they didn’t have enough money to see their family doctor for a preventable or treatable condition.  Our county’s infant mortality rate is an abysmal 27th among 30 industrialized countries in part because more than 800,000 pregnant women are uninsured.

The number of uninsureds unable to afford basic healthcare and prescribed drugs is reaching a majority in our communities. 45% of single mothers reported not going to the doctor when they needed to and 43% didn’t fill a prescription. 39% of Hispanic women didn’t go to the doctor as needed, 32% of all Black men hadn’t filled a needed prescription, 52% of the unemployed skipped seeing a doctor when they had to, and 47% of unemployed men were struggling to pay a medical bill. In fact, high percentages of all the above respondents profiled in Women and Men Living on the Edge: Economic Insecurity after the Great Depression were having trouble paying medical bills.

Healthcare is expensive but the cost of not providing healthcare is human lives. As our country withdraws from the long years fighting in Iraq I call for new daily headlines;  stories about the lives we can and are saving in America by solving healthcare inequities. Please join me. We don’t need medical specialists to heal our communities we need to come together and insist on change.

States Enact Troubling New Voter Restrictions

October 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

This blog exists to publish perspectives and voices about living at or near the poverty line and to discuss policies and projects that impact those lives. Being heard by media is still sadly uncommon but being heard in government is a fundamental right for all Americans and a critical factor in creating positive changes.  However, some states changed their voting registration laws after the election in 2010 making that right harder to attain. Many of these laws will impact your ability to vote for US President in 2012.

Restrictions among the 14 states enacting change cover broad ranges of election law according to a new Brennen Center for Justice study, “Voting Law Changes in 2012.”  The new laws include strict new requirements to register to vote and intimidating regulations for groups and individuals who conduct voter registration drives. They scale back early voting and eliminate Sunday voting, eliminate same day voting registration, disenfranchise people who have served criminal sentences, and make it harder to stay registered if a voter changes address.

If you live in: Florida, Georgia, Ohio (Ohio election law changes on hold temporarily), Tennessee or West Virginia check new changes to your ability to vote absentee or to vote early. If you’re in: Ohio (contested, see link above), North Carolina, or Florida your right to vote on Sunday has been eliminated or changed. If you live in: Florida, Maine, Ohio (contested), or Texas (in review by Department of Justice) you won’t be as able to register through a registration drive because of new restrictions on those organizations and individuals.  Texas (in review, see link above), for instance, is requiring people who register voters to be deputized now. Learn how to register so you can be ready in 2012!

If you live in: Alabama, Kansas, or Tennessee you need proof of citizenship now to get a voter card. The Brennen Center estimates 7% of the voting public doesn’t currently have easy access to proof of citizenship.

In Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas (law in review) and Wisconsin you need photo ID. Check your state guidelines for exact ID’s accepted and if there are affidavits or provisional ballots you can file. Tennessee, for instance, excludes student photo ID. Only Alabama (law in effect in 2013) and Wisconsin recognize tribal ID. Kansas, Texas, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Alabama accept handgun licenses. Photo ID generally means: non-expired license, state ID card, US passport, or US Military ID.

Prior to 2006 you didn’t need ID to vote in any state. Now you’ll be asked for some form of ID in the states above as well as: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio (contested), Oklahoma and Washington. Many of the ID’s required are state or governmental photo ID. You need to acquire those ID’s well in advance of the Presidential election.

These laws impact students, people with low incomes, minorities, seniors and disabled individuals most. They’ve been sponsored and aggressively pursued by the Republican party and passed by Republican majorities. The intentional screening out of student ID in some states will impact the voting rights of young people. Consequence? Consider this, in Election 2008 young voters turned out historic numbers. 66% voted for Obama.The elimination of Sunday voting has absolutely no rationale and it impacts African American and Hispanic voters. Why? According to the Brennen report more than 50% of the Florida vote on the Sunday before the election was cast by African Americans and Hispanics. Florida has now eliminated that day for voting. Nationally 96% of the Black vote went to Obama.

Coming Out In A Still Hostile World

October 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

October 11, 2011 is National Coming Out Day. That’s a day for supporting friends and family who are Gay, Lesbian or Transgender. It’s a day to press for equality. It’s a day when LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) members are encouraged to “come out,” be open, and share the full spectrum of who they are.  But for many LGBT low income and homeless people full disclosure of sexuality leads to hate and discrimination in places where they go to seek shelter or support.

Recent reports from The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), New York based Queers For Economic Justice (Q4EJ) and Anti Violence Project pour out incidences and harsh experiences that homeless and low income LGBT people face.  On this day promoting visibility of all that we are these studies highlight the risk and complexity that minority communities face when they are visible and do stand up for their experience.

In Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness,  the NGLTF finds that family conflict over gender identification is a primary factor driving youth into homelessness.  Estimates from counts across the nation suggest that LGBT youth comprise upwards of 20 and as high as 40% of  the more than 1 million homeless youth in our country. Youth continue to find hardship on the streets and are 7 times more likely to become crime victims. Safe shelter is hard to find. In New York, for instance, 60% of shelters are run by a facility that repeatedly threatens and abuses LGBT youth because of their sexual orientation.  Despite large numbers in the homeless community very little federal funding, targeted programs, or appropriate housing is provided for LGBT youth.

Queers for Economic Justice’s report: A Fabulous Attitude: LGBTGNC People Surviving and Thriving on Shelter, Love, and Knowledge reports that LGBT homeless youth often stay homeless or low income into young adulthood. In this report, using studies and interviews with 200 respondents, Q4EJ writes, “Survey takers contend with harassment from landlords, evictions, and egregious conditions in shelters. LGBTGNC (Lesbian, Gay,  Bi, Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming) people who are homeless negotiate unprofessional, discriminatory, and dangerous treatment in many vital social service agencies, including being denied services (40%), falsely arrested(24%) and physically (22%) and sexually assaulted (10%).”  

Sadly a 2010 report by The Anti Violence project concludes that LGBTQH (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer, HIV affected) communities with long histories of discrimination and violence faced increased rates of violence in 2010 noting that murders in the community are at the second highest level in a decade. Their findings of abuse and indifference within the system were consistent with NGLTF and Q4EJ. 61% of 362 victims interviewed said police attitudes toward them were indifferent, abusive or deterrent. 

Please join me today in pledging to support more funding and research directed toward LGBT low-income and homeless communities. Consider “liking” the Anti Violence Project on Facebook or donating to the  Human Rights Campaign. If you know someone who is LGBT let them know today that you appreciate and support who they are.

Worrisome signs of cognitive risks in poverty

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m skeptical of studies that find children living in potentially stigmatized environments are cognitively at risk. But I concede that a growing number of good studies observe that our children living in persistent poverty seem to experience cognitive impacts.  The worst news:  This affects 15 million children and, consequently, America’s future. The better news: some studies suggest that  learning impacts that may exist can be countered if we can develop effective school interventions. Others believe that parenting support may make a difference.

The three studies I’m referencing are:

1) In 2009 Wired Science portrayed results of a study of 195 white kids this way: “A long-term study of cognitive development in lower- and middle-class students found strong links between childhood poverty, physiological stress and adult memory.” The researchers tested memory at 9, 13 and 17 years of age. They conjectured that early life stress, such as that experienced by many children in persistent poverty, has an impact on brain structure.

2) In 2011 more studies were announced.  In January, researchers tracking 750 pairs of fraternal and identical twins  determined that by age 2 cognitive differences were emerging between children of wealthy families and poor families.

3) In April, the National Library of Medicine, Medicine net, and many Science publications  reported on results of a British study following approx 19,000 children at 3 months, 3 years and 5 years of age.  Science Daily writes, “They conclude: ‘Persistent poverty is a crucial risk factor undermining children’s cognitive development — more so than family instability.'”

Persistent poverty is the risk factor not family instability. In other words poverty and not people living those lifestyles are what puts our nation’s children at risk. We’re no longer simply fighting to give equal education to all kids we’re talking about saving the intellectual capabilities and potential of all children. Poverty hurts. Now we’re learning new ways that it harms. Won’t you join me in giving time and energy to alleviate persistent poverty.  Help the children. Give them a chance for future success by getting involved in a local poverty relief program.

Are The Unique Values of Poverty A Civic Benefit?

May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

How do we end poverty and homelessness? Government, organizational heads, and advocates sometimes think it’s impossible. Could the key lie in the values of communities experiencing those problems? There are many stresses in the communities but do those stresses and that experience also cultivate egalitarianism which, if taught to others, could change the world?

In previous posts I’ve discussed Jennifer Sherman’s research  which indicates that financially stressed communities experience a shift in priorities placing more focus  on family and community.  I’ve also discussed how low income earners tend to be larger charitable donors (as a percent of income) then their upper class neighbors. Sherman’s field research and historical data on charitable giving all seemed to make more sense when I found reports of new psychological research from U Cal that suggests income does make a difference in our ability to be empathic and compassionate with others. 

The Ph.D. candidate that conducted the research, Dr Piff, is quoted in The New York Times as saying , “wealth seems to buffer people from attending to the needs of others.”  The Economist writes, “Dr Piff himself suggests that the increased compassion which seems to exist among the poor increases generosity and helpfulness, and promotes a level of trust and co-operation that can prove essential for survival during hard times.” Could it also prove essential for solving the stubborn civic challenge of homelessness and poverty?

Rampant poverty is America’s hard times.  How can this country survive and rekindle trust and cooperation with one another to solve these problems? All economic classes have things to teach and share with America.  If we listen and learn from people who’ve been challenged with hardship maybe their values and experience will lead us back to national healing. Worth a try?

Poverty and Family Values

May 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

If you’ve ever faced poverty or experienced low income you know that these conditions can create dramatic and painful questions like, “Should I buy food or medicine?” People unfamiliar with the experience of poverty may ask themselves why poor people don’t put more emphasis on earning money to avoid those choices.  Some even suggest that poverty is a problem of values and poor choices.

For insight, turn to sociologist Jennnifer Sherman’s account of interviews with members of an economically shattered mountain community published in her  paper, “Family Values, Rural Poverty, and the Moral Boundaries of ‘Tradition'” and in her book, Those Who Work And Those Who Don’t.  Her work was inspired by a curiosity about why family values figured so strongly in recent national elections but her findings have greater application. They tell us that the constant stress of inadequate money and reactive consequences  (ie: drug use, depression, violence) shift the way members of that community view their priorities.

Middle class whites, Sherman writes, make “sure their children have all the advantages necessary to get ahead” but parents in this poor community, “focus their energies on making sure that their children, and any others in need, are provided the very basics. Oftentimes this does not even mean sufficient food, but simply an abuse-free environment in which to sleep at night and parental figures who will support them in their endeavors.”  In the context of severe economic stress family and tradition are  “…one area left in which its citizens can define themselves and their community as a success story.” 

Sherman’s work  focuses on a unique, mostly white,  rural community but is there a similar effect in diverse urban communities stressed with poverty? How does stress in an urban community affect the choices people make? Do the polarizing either/or “choices” of poverty sometimes influence community members to elevate altruistic values over the pursuit of money? Are choices poor choices when they’re made to give children the best life possible?

Solving poverty is hard but, as a country, we can make progress by simply learning more about economic classes we’re unfamiliar with and suspending our judgements. Encourage others to stop problematizing people in poverty and focus, instead, on problematizing our tolerance of communities and families facing dire financial decisions.

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