How Poverty Influences Development in American Youth

by Shay Cole

Children under the age of 18 are the largest group of poor people in America. In 2014, over 15 million children lived in families with incomes below the federal poverty line.  Female-headed households make up the vast majority of these low-income families. Poverty is a major influencer in the lives of American youth impacting them mentally, physically, and academically.

  • Food insecurity and inadequate nutrition

Children are able to function at their best when they are not concerned about food. However, food is often the greatest concern of children. Nearly 39 percent of children live in low-income households making their access to quality nutrition limited or non-existent. Grocery stores and supermarkets lack quality food options in impoverished neighborhoods. Gardens and fresh foods are scarce due to the limited resources in low-income areas. When children are focused on food they cannot focus on things like making wise choices and completing school assignments. As a result, many schools now provide free meals to children who attend. Some schools have also partnered with organizations who provide additional food assistance to needy families. 

  • Substandard housing and unsafe neighborhoods

7 in 10 children who live with a single mother are poor or low-income. Single mothers are more susceptible to living in unsafe neighborhoods and substandard housing because it is what they can afford. Women are paid substantially less than their male counterparts in most professions. As a result, women have to work twice as hard to receive adequate pay. When single mothers are forced to work multiple jobs to earn suitable wages they are less involved in the rearing of their children. Children raised by single mothers are more likely to be involved in delinquent or risky behavior due to limited supervision. Improving community programs and increasing wages would be a great benefit and major resource to those struggling to survive poverty. 

  • Lower academic performance

Children who live in high poverty areas are more likely to attend schools with limited funding and opportunities for expansion. As a result, the children are receiving a subpar educational experience. They are unable to concentrate and perform as well due to the stress associated with living in poverty. In some cases, children are forced to work and help with household income which in turn increases drop-out rates. Increased funding sources and community based programs would greatly reduce lower academic performance in low-income areas. It would also improve self-esteem and reduce stress for the impacted children.

Understanding how poverty influences the development of American youth can shed light on what steps need to be taken to fix the problem. Poverty is controllable. Pouring back into the communities that need the help will change the quality of life for all who reside there. American youth suffer more than any other group and they are helpless. They depend on the parents, guardians, and other figures to provide what they need. The more resources that are available, the more opportunity there is for growth.