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  • What does poverty look like?: Poverty in America Awareness Month
    Added by My Identity Doctor
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    During the holiday season, TV, radio, and public spaces constantly encourage us to consider those who are living in poverty—we may give financial support to organizations volunteer our time, or donate food and gifts to those in need. However, these needs exist year-round. January is Poverty in America Awareness Month, and today on the Identity Doctor blog, we hope to give you a better understanding of what poverty is, and how it impacts the health of people in our communities.
    View of a street of a run-down area on a hill. Many buildings have been tagged with graffiti. To the right there are bikes and a person about to cross, and cars lining the sides of the road. To the left, two people sit on the steps of a boarded-up building. More people are in the distance and litter lines the gutters.
    Photo from Purple Haze on City-Data. Click for image.

    What is poverty?

    A Penn State University project asks how the richest country in the world can still have “more than 12% of its total population” in poverty, including 20% of all children under age 18? [1] They loosely define poverty as an individual or family being unable to meet basic needs in the present—which also means they are often unable to feel that they can meet their own needs for the future. [1]  The National Center for Children in Poverty paints a picture of what poverty may look like for many American families, outlining basic needs as including: rent and utilities, food, child-care, healthcare (out of pocket and/or insurance), transportation, paying-off of debt, and taxes (income, property, etc.) and other expenses (clothing, toiletries, telephone bill, etc.) [2] Being “in poverty” essentially means that you struggle to afford these basic needs, and can barely ‘scrape by’—there are no savings for if your car breaks down, a job is lost, property is damaged and needs to be repaired for example.
    What does poverty look like?
    Some families living in poverty can appear to be doing okay—after all, they have shelter, clothing and food, the parents have jobs, maybe even a vehicle or bus fare. However, even small surprises can cause undue stress for families: consider a family who chooses one month to spend just a few extra dollars for something special at the grocery store, only for their child to come home from school the next day saying they need that same amount for a school event or field trip.
    Many families have only one parent—this means they have fewer options for childcare, as some two-parent families may choose for one parent to stay home and care for young children: plausible so long as the working parent’s income is high enough. A single parent will have to work, and find alternate childcare for children, while making enough money to cover the expenses of their family—ie. they may need to earn double the amount per hour that each parent in a two-parent family earns.. They may have less flexibility in what hours they can work, to be available to care for children when they are not in school or centre-based childcare, and if a child is sick and cannot go to school or daycare, the parent may need to miss work, and in turn lose pay, to care for the child.
    People living in poverty do not all just struggle to make ends meet though—many cannot cover the basic necessities of life at all. Those who do not have homes may live with family or friends, in vehicles, or in shelters. Some may be forced to live on the streets. Living in a shelter is an unstable source of housing, and while living with family or friends offers a fixed address, it comes with its own stresses. It goes without saying that additional burden arises from living in a vehicle or on the street: there is no fixed address to provide to potential employers or other support programs, safety and security are a huge concern, and it becomes more difficult to maintain health needs.
    Health Impacts of Poverty
    • Poor nutrition can lead to both malnutrition, or being underweight, and obesity, as snack foods can be less expensive than fresh foods. These can both negatively impact health by worsening chronic disease, or contributing to lifestyle factors that may contribute to onset of chronic disease.
    • Medication can be expensive, and those living in poverty may have to choose between eating or taking their medicine.
    • Even with insurance, co-pays for medical care may be too expensive for many families to afford. They may either go in debt to receive care, or choose not to receive medical care. Some may seek care only when the situation is urgent, by visiting an emergency room, or they may choose this option only after letting their condition worsen to the point that they do need emergency care.
    • Early intervention for medical conditions that are not emergent may not be sought—a small problem may become a very big (and more expensive) one.
    • Dental disease can be caused by both poor overall health and poor nutrition—and, it can lead to further issues with health. For instance, gum disease is a precursor to developing heart disease, but also those who have poor oral health may not be able to eat a variety of foods to stay healthy.
    • Illness may lead to more sick days, which leads to less income, and in some cases, job loss. This burden increases for parents who may have to miss work to care for sick children.
    These are just a few of the impacts that poverty may have on a person’s health—and do not even begin to cover the increased risks faced by those not living in standard housing—living on the streets or in a vehicle increases risk of heat or cold related illness and dehydration; living in a shelter increases the chances that a person may catch any number of communicable (contagious) diseases, despite the best precautions employed by these types of centres.
    Supporting Those in Need
    In the United States, there are many state and federal programs to help people living in poverty make ends meet. Food banks, financial assistance, and medical care may be available, but they amy not sufficiently cover their needs. Food banks are in constant need of donations of all food items; shelters constantly require donations of clothing, jackets, blankets, gloves and mittens, hats and scarves, and hygiene products. Government “food stamps” or electronic pre-loaded cards may help some families pay for groceries, breakfast programs at schools may help kids fuel up for learning, but many issues are untouched: how do families get past simply “making ends meet” and recover to be able to be self-sufficient? This is why poverty is such a complex issue. People may say supports exist, however, supports currently are not ample enough to meet the needs of everyone who needs them.
    Every action makes a difference. By each of us giving what we can: a few dollars, a food item into a donation bin at a grocery store, or gently used clothing, a few hours volunteering to sort food donations, we can begin to make a difference to those who need it. And, our help is needed year-round.
    To learn more about poverty rates state-by-state, please check out this chart or view an interactive map from Poverty USA. To learn how you can help in your area, contact your local food bank, shelter, or United Way, or another organization aiming to end poverty in your community.
    Published by My Identity Doctor on January 14, 2016


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