Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

In the name of science

Posted: 5 October 2015 in Uncategorized
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There’s no doubt Kimberly G. Noble and her team of neuroscientists are genuinely concerned about the effects of poverty on children’s brains—and not for nefarious purposes.

Not surprisingly, our findings made many people uncomfortable. Some feared the study would be used to reinforce the notion that people remain in poverty because they are less capable than those with higher incomes.

As neuroscientists, we interpret the results very differently. We know that the brain is most malleable in the early years of life and that experiences during that time have lifelong effects on the mind. Work by social scientists such as Sendhil Mullainathan at Harvard University and Eldar Shafir at Princeton University has shown that poverty depletes parents’ cognitive resources, leaving less capacity for making everyday decisions about parenting. These parents are also at far greater risk for depression and anxiety — poverty’s “mental tax.” All of this has important implications for children.

When parents are distracted or depressed, family life is likely to be characterized by conflict and emotional withdrawal rather than nurturing and supportive relationships with children. Parents don’t talk and read to their kids as often and make less eye contact with them. This accumulation of stress in children’s lives has cascading effects on brain systems critical to learning, remembering and reasoning.

As a society we cannot stand by when millions of children are at risk for not reaching their full cognitive and academic potential.

But then, in the name of science (in particular, in the name of randomized trials), here’s what they propose:

That’s why I am part of a team of social scientists and neuroscientists planning a large clinical trial in which 1,000 low-income mothers will be randomly assigned to receive either a large ($333) or small ($20) monthly income supplement for the first three years of their children’s lives. Periodic assessments of the children and their mothers will enable us to estimate the impact of these cash supplements on children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development, as well as the effect on family functioning. . .

The political battles for major expansion of these types of programs are unlikely to be won until we can provide hard scientific proof of their effectiveness. Until then, we need to do all we can to support policies that offer our most vulnerable children the best chance of reaching their full potential.

I understand the desire to want to be able to produce and use “hard” numbers to intervene in public debate. I do it all the time on this blog.

However, we need to be concerned about attempts to use poor people—first in Third World countries, and now in the United States—as guinea pigs “to estimate the impact of these cash supplements on children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development, as well as the effect on family functioning.”

We can well imagine what the reaction would be if, in the name of science, we devised a large clinical trial in which 1,000 high-income mothers were randomly assigned to a large (say, $10,000) or small (say, $1,000) monthly income deduction in order to estimate the impact of these cash deductions on children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development, as well as the effect on family functioning.


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What is it poor working Americans need?

According to Jeb Bush, channeling Mitt Romney, they need “hope and aspiration,” not promises of “free stuff.”

“Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” he said at the East Cooper Republican Women’s Club annual Shrimp Dinner. “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

And then there’s Robert Macdonald, mayor of Lewiston, Maine, who supports a bill “asking that a Web site be created containing the names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected by every individual on the dole.”

Of people receiving benefits, he said: “Go into the grocery store. They flaunt it.” Publicly posting personal information, he said, could encourage people to go after those “gaming the system.”

He added he doesn’t care whether some people who rightly receive benefits could be hurt, saying: “Some people are going to get harmed but if it’s for the good of everybody, that’s the way it is.”

What’s next, requiring welfare recipients to submit to drug testing or screening?

Oh, that’s right, at least thirteen states have already passed legislation regarding drug testing or screening for public assistance applicants or recipients (Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah). And, as of July 2015, another 18 states have proposed legislation requiring some form of drug testing or screening for public assistance recipients this year (Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia).


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Chart of the day

Posted: 23 September 2015 in Uncategorized
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As part of his report on the geography of poverty in the United States, Matt Black how the pipelines and profits of the oil industry have failed to address the high poverty rate among American Indians.

Tribes have been forced to fight a series of losing battles to control and capitalize on the natural resources found on their land. In North Dakota, where an oil boom has bolstered the state economy and driven the unemployment rate down to just 3.1%, the unemployment rate in Standing Rock is 79%.

The thriving oil industry on or near the state’s tribal lands has created a tense tug-of-war between big industry and the tribes, some of whom have opted to work with corporations in order to claim at least some of what those corporations are sucking out of the earth. At the same time, there’s concern over what many native environmental activists call a con game, where corporations use loopholes and the messy state of tribal and government relations to push further into native lands for oil exploration.

Forgotten America

Posted: 23 September 2015 in Uncategorized
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Matt Black (along with Trymaine Lee, Amy Pereira, Mina Liu, and Sam Petulla) has produced an extraordinary photodocumentary of the geography of poverty in the United States [ht: ja].

The sheer number of poor people in this country is striking: fully 45 million meet the official guidelines for poverty. And that doesn’t include millions more who are among the working poor – those who tip-toe just above the government’s official poverty line, which for a family of four means an annual income of less than $23,850 and for an individual means an annual income of $11,670. Recent reports suggest more than 50% of food stamp recipients are the working poor.

For the first time in more than 50 years, the majority of America’s public school children are living in poverty.

What does this all mean for folks trying to achieve some semblance of the American dream, let alone keep food on the table and a stable roof over their family’s heads? With the myriad roadblocks that often confront poor people, like a lack of access to a quality education or a good job, what prospects do people in this group have for overcoming these hurdles? What does success and survival even look like when you’re poor in America?

And what does it mean for a country that has done all it can to forget about the existence of widespread poverty across its length and breadth?


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