Posted by Vianne Cresley on August 16, 2016
Approximately 1 in 5 children in the United States live in poverty. Children, along with the elderly, are the most vulnerable population in the country. The reasons for this stunning rate of childhood poverty in the most prosperous nation in the world are both structural and social.
In fact, the United States leads the developed world in the category of childhood poverty. The childhood poverty rate has hovered around 20% since the onset of The Great Recession. Unfortunately, estimates by the United States Government indicate that the rate of childhood poverty in the country is expected to rise to 25% by 2020.
A family that lacks sufficient economic resources will experience many financial headwinds. Arguably, the most substantial will be access to adequate nutrition. The United States is littered with so-called food deserts that service impoverished communities with substandard foods. These foods usually have a high caloric intake but very low (or nonexistent) nutritional value. These sorts of sugary foods have been conclusively linked to the rise in childhood obesity throughout the land. They are also the primary culprit in the early onset of tooth decay that many poor children experience during their formative years .
Despite the widespread implementation of Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) initiatives, poor children continue to have limited access to dental care. On average, these children do not attend dental visits with the same regularity as their wealthier counterparts. The unfortunate result of this oral health neglect is that many children go about their daily activities with untreated cavities. When the cavity progresses to the point that it becomes painful and compromises the health of the tooth, children are often forced into school absences as they cope with their oral ailments without the care of a trained dental professional.
Many single mother households are not poor. However, half of the children that live in a household that is headed by a single mother live below the official poverty threshold. Many more are teetering on the edge between financial solvency and crippling debt. Compared to their counterparts in other industrialized nations, single mothers in the United States tend to have an extremely difficult economic road to travel.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 60% of women that are under the age of 25 and give birth have no spouse. Over the course of the past 4 decades, the incidence of single motherhood has almost doubled in the U.S. population. This seems to be a vicious cycle. It has been found that women that have access to robust educational opportunities are far less likely to have children out of wedlock. They also forego having children until they are relatively financially stable.
In spite of the fact that single mothers have a high probability of living at or beneath the poverty line in the United States, they are much more likely to work than single mothers in other westernized countries. The problem is that as a group, they are paid far lower wages than other workers.
The United States also lags behind other developed nations in terms of optimal and affordable child care services for families. Even when single mothers can find good employment, they still have to contend with the extreme cost of child care that exists throughout the country. Additionally, many jobs do not offer paid sick days to accommodate single mothers when they have to stay home from work to nurse a sick child back to health.
The United States is one of only 4 other countries in the world that does not have mandated paid maternity leave.
School can pose significant problems for impoverished children if their home situation is unstable. Many children come to school on an empty stomach. Often times, these children went to sleep the night before with no dinner. The latest data reveals that 15.3 million children in the United States lived in a household that struggled to provide meals to their children on a day-to-day basis.
Instead of focusing on their studies, these children are focused on survival. Academic achievement, athletic pursuits and social development fall to the wayside when this happens.
This is why programs like the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program are so important. Many Americans are simply unaware of the magnitude of the problem of childhood poverty in the country. Other Americans are working so hard to make ends meet that they simply don’t have the energy and resources to take the problem to task in their own communities.
The United States has entrenched structural issues that have brought about stagnant wages and cyclical poverty. Most Americans would be surprised to find out that the United States now has the least amount of economic mobility of any industrialized nation. There is a widespread belief in the U.S. that the opportunities for economic advancement in the country far exceed those of any other country. The mainstream press rarely covers the tragedy of childhood poverty. Most lawmakers only give lip service to legislative initiatives and policies that could help to alleviate the problem by talking in vague platitudes about the issue.
In 2013, the American Dental Association released a study that concluded that approximately 50% of impoverished citizens of the U.S. did not visit a dentist in the prior year. Over half of those people reported that they were living with a cavity that was not treated. Being that dental health is a vital component of a patient’s overall health, this was an alarming finding.
In response to this report, the Dental Group Practice Association went across the country and provided free dental care to 1,600 patients across 11 states. They performed procedures ranging from routine cleanings to dental surgical procedures on adults and children.
It was a good first step. However, the sheer magnitude of the problem of access to dental care for millions of American youth will require an intervention on a fantastic scale. The United States is surely up to the task of caring for the dental health of her most vulnerable citizens. It is not a question of resources; it is a question of resolve.