What are the Long Term Effects of Poverty?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Poverty continues to be a problem in the United States. Research indicates that 17% of American children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level and approximately 39% live in families that could be classified as low-income. Although there are more white children who live in poverty, the percentage of Hispanic and African American children growing up in poverty still remains disproportionately high.

Poverty may affect the quality of schools.
Poverty may affect the quality of schools.

The term poverty is usually used to simply refer to a lack of money, but living in a state of financial instability is both physically and emotionally damaging. While a child who grows up in a middle class suburb is taught that he or she can go to college, marry, have a rewarding career, and make a meaningful contribution to the world at large, a child born into poverty must struggle to simply make it to adulthood. The long term effects of poverty are why this is a social issue that deserves public attention.

Impoverished families have higher rates of obesity because of malnutrition.
Impoverished families have higher rates of obesity because of malnutrition.

Children who grow up in older buildings are more likely to suffer from asthma and other health issues.
Children who grow up in older buildings are more likely to suffer from asthma and other health issues.

A Problem with Lasting Effects

Unfortunately, poverty becomes an obstacle to future success before a child is even born. Since poor women are more likely to be uninsured, they often wait to seek proper prenatal care. In addition, they may suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, or other medical conditions that place their child at risk of premature birth. This often leads to physical and/or developmental delays that cause a child to lag behind his or her peers.

Poor children often go to under-funded schools and face ongoing educational struggles.
Poor children often go to under-funded schools and face ongoing educational struggles.

Even accounting for the problems associated with their mother's poor prenatal care, children in poverty have greater health concerns than their more affluent counterparts. For example, problems with asthma are more common among kids who live in older buildings with poor ventilation. Obesity is also significantly more common among poor children, since a diet rich in lean protein and fresh produce is typically too expensive for a low income family even with the assistance of food stamps.

People who suffer from extreme cases of poverty may end up homeless.
People who suffer from extreme cases of poverty may end up homeless.

Mental health is another area which is impacted by growing up in poverty. The stressful situations that often accompany poverty, such as divorce, death, job loss, or drug addiction, can create feelings of anxiety and depression that can last well into adulthood. Parents who are struggling to provide basic necessities are often unable to spend much quality time with their children, leading to low self esteem and lifelong difficulties forming strong relationships with others. Spending large amounts of time in poor quality daycare, a situation which is much more common among children in poverty, can also have a negative impact on a child's emotional health.

People who have dealt with long term poverty are more likely to commit violent crimes.
People who have dealt with long term poverty are more likely to commit violent crimes.

Once they reach elementary school, children who live in poverty often receive a substandard education because they are forced to move frequently or attend under-funded schools. This is one of the most troubling long term effects of poverty. A child who does not learn to read and write proficiently while in elementary school is likely to continue to struggle as a high school student. With poor grades in high school, his/her prospects for attending college are seriously limited. Since career advancement in the modern economy is often tied to educational attainment, the lack of a college degree sets the poor child up for a lifetime of struggle.

Teens living in poverty are more likely to commit crimes like shoplifting.
Teens living in poverty are more likely to commit crimes like shoplifting.

Teenagers who live in poverty are significantly more likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and risky sexual behavior. Poor teens are also more likely to engage in unlawful acts, ranging from minor shoplifting to serious gang activity. At a time when they should be laying the foundation for their success as adults, teenagers who live in poverty are often making bad decisions that will only serve to further complicate their lives.

In some situations, divorce may be a part of a life of poverty.
In some situations, divorce may be a part of a life of poverty.

Understanding Generational Poverty

According to sociologists, there are two different types of poverty. Situational poverty occurs when a family suffers a negative change in finances due to an illness, job loss, or other temporary event. Living in situational poverty, although still traumatic, usually has minimal lasting effects. Generational poverty, however, is a persistent and long term struggle that occurs when two or more generations of the same family are living in poverty. Generational poverty is thought by many to be one of the most difficult long term effects of poverty to fix.

When entire families are struggling to meet their basic needs, a "culture of poverty" begins to be formed. People begin to develop ingrained beliefs that limit their chances for future success. This may include considering crime an acceptable alternative to traditional employment or not believing children should strive for good grades in school. While children who grow up in middle class or upper class families are taught to focus on the future and the potential for changing their lives, children living in generational poverty often grow up believing that their present circumstances are determined only by fate and factors beyond their control.

What Can We Do?

The federal government has instituted a variety of programs to help lessen the long term effects of poverty on a child's development. The Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program helps to provide nutritious food for pregnant women and children under the age of five. Head Start offers free preschool to children from poor families, helping to lay the groundwork for future academic success. Every state in the United States also has a program to provide free or low cost health insurance to children in poverty.

Various non-profit community organizations have also begun programs to fight the long terms effects of poverty. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America provides positive adult role models for at risk children. The Salvation Army offers summer camp experiences for low income children, teaching sports, arts and crafts, music, and outdoor wilderness skills. At Christmas, many churches sponsor needy families to make sure all children are able to have a festive holiday celebration regardless of their financial circumstances.

Although these programs do help alleviate the burden of poverty somewhat, the war on poverty is far from being over. Until there are enough jobs available that provide a true living wage and more assistance for parents struggling with addiction and mental health issues, poor children will continue to be at a distinct disadvantage.

Many children in impoverished areas worldwide have no access to vaccines for polio and other preventable diseases.
Many children in impoverished areas worldwide have no access to vaccines for polio and other preventable diseases.
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the wiseGEEK team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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Discussion Comments


I like the way this article is written and the discussions. Congrats! While reading all these, two thoughts continue to echo in my mind.

A. The world has plenty for the needy but not enough for the greedy. Those who live in poverty sacrifice and share what they have, like the widow's offering, in gratitude.

B. The Lord hears the cry of the poor; blessed be the Lord!


The government should create jobs that the illiterate can qualify for. If jobs are only for educated people, what is expected for the ones who are not clever? They are going to be thieves tomorrow because they won't be able to provide for themselves.


How can we use ICT to eradicate poverty?


A child can come out of poverty and be a healthy individual, but their chances are a lot lower than a middle class child. The obvious reason is that they have less to work with. It is possible for a poor child to become successful if they develop the necessary tools to be a successful adult. The problem is if they don't develop these tools they will definitely have a difficult time.

The reason why they might not develop these tools, is there is no one to teach them who knows how. Children who live in poverty worry about being poor and not having what another person has, and dealing with unhappy parents who stress out their children.


I grew up on a share crop farm with four siblings. My parents worked very hard and I and my siblings worked alongside of them as soon as we were old enough. Getting good grades in school was important to my parents and they instilled a strong work ethic in us. College was something that I later worked myself through without any loans.

We had no money, but had a richness in family values. I would not trade it for any other upbringing. I am successful today and fairly well off due to the hard work ethic instilled at a young age.

Look at all the people who risk their lives to come to this country. It is still the best place on the planet to get ahead if you are willing to work.


I have raised my son as a single mom with a single income. I made too much to qualify for any assistance and barely enough to get by. I was juggling bills and paying only the most pressing ones. However, we got through it.

We are certainly not the typical low-income family. I took extra jobs to allow my son to be in activities, attended every one of his sporting events and made time for him. He was a state place winner in wrestling and captain of the football team. When he graduated from high school, he received a scholarship based on good character and a separate award for having a positive impact on his school. He's now a freshman in college and is on the football team. In addition, I am preparing to graduate from college in a week. I found this article while doing research for a paper. I think as a country we need to empower low-income families to help themselves. I remember being stuck in a job and feeling like I had no options to make things better. Being laid off from that job was ultimately a blessing.


This article has been extremely generalized! Rich and poor people do drugs, class has nothing to do with it. Rich people with a lot of money will still steal, as do the poor. Rich people still have problems just like everyone else, the only difference is that they can afford to pay for lawyers to get out of trouble where poor people just go to jail and deal with the consequences the hard way.


I will write my poverty story.

I grew up in a poor family. Before I was born my family was eating eggs for every meal of the day because they were cheap. My dad would work late, was an alcoholic and abusive, and would rarely bring home a paycheck. My mom was dumb and weak-willed and put up with his nonsense.

But was it our fault (my three siblings and I)? Not at all.

Somehow my parents, who divorced when I was eight years old, had four intelligent and productive children. All of us have emotional scars from our childhoods, but we have each other. All of us have paid for college completely by ourselves and are extremely independent.

I put my dreams on hold for years and now that I am away from my parents, I have finally been able to work on fulfilling them.

All I can say is that I try my best to move forward, and sometimes I am a little jealous of my boyfriend, who basically had an opposite upbringing and has no student loans to worry about.

Oh, and I do believe in socialism to a degree. I think poverty does that to most people, which is why most poor people are Democratic.


No. 1 has a chip on her shoulder and no, most pro athletes did not come from poverty; that was narrow minded and somewhat racist.

Those guys worked very hard to get through high school while perfecting their sport and then achieve scholarships to colleges! Where do you think scouts picked up pro athletes? Hanging out in the hood? Nope, going to college level games.

Those guys have college educations and would be really offended if someone assumed they came from poverty. I know Tony Parker is from a very nice hood in Paris. David Robinson was from an upper class family and a Naval Academy graduates.

Kids from poverty usually do not get great educations and drop out and lack motivation because they see no future because their parents or usually their single mom is out of a job so what is the point.

If they are a girl, they get pregnant and if they are a boy they look for emotional needs through gangs. So no, they are not better off and well-rounded growing up in a life of unemployment and poverty. Doesn't that make sense? If not, check the statistics; they tell the story loud and clear.

Your boys coming from a single, poor mom are twice as likely to end up in jail and not the NBA. So get a job, go back to school and get involved with your kids school and get them to college so they can contribute to our country instead of being a source of the problem for everyone. We are paying for you. It's my tax dollars at work to pay for them if they end up pregnant or in jail so, I would rather my money go towards college grants and job training.

If you really want a job, there are plenty to be found. It is just what people are willing to do. A work ethic is the best thing you can teach your children who are being raised in poverty.


I agree with post number 2! The article was just stating the facts. Many of the children of poverty (not all) come for home where their parents either work low-wage jobs or have not job. The parents usually have less than a high school education so the kids often suffer. I have children and with their school work if it was not for my college education I would be at a lost to help them. So I cannot imagine how someone who dropped out of high school can be a help to their kids.


To anon82082: Obviously you are a person coming from poverty who was quite offended at the above mentioned.

If you were, in fact, educated enough you would know that this was not directed at you, and is only generalized towards trends. Also the extent of how "offended" you are would diminish the more you opened your mind to the big picture.

It is an article looking for ways to improve the lives of people as well as their developing children. This was not an attack on any one person or peoples of lower income status.


You basically said in your first paragraph that children in poverty were dumb and they won't have social skills and that they are more prone to be fat, and their parents spend less time with them.

Trust me -- they spend a lot more time with them because they can't always have a babysitter. When you don't have a job, you are always with your kids, and children who grow out of poverty are more sociable and they often can get along with many because they are not closed off in a suburb, seeing the same people all the time. They are in much better shape.

Don't you see all these star athletes in every sport? Many of them come from poverty. It is true that they do need better education but other than that, this was a useless waste of time.

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