Double Whammy

A friend from Wisconsin often shares news reported in that state’s media. Most recently, he sent me an article reporting on the troubling results of research into poverty and public health.

Malia Jones is an assistant scientist and social epidemiologist working in Wisconsin. As she notes, her conclusions about increases in poverty despite the economic recovery are consistent with those reached by other scholars.

We didn’t look at explanations for that but other people have, and I think what’s happening is that people at the low end of the economic spectrum are not benefiting from recovery. They’re really being left behind. So inequality is increasing in the face of an expanding economy.

Jones’ work is one more confirmation that, as she says, low-income Americans are being left behind. But her analysis didn’t stop there, and her discussion of both the immediate and long-term implications requires attention.

In short, poor children in America are getting a “double whammy.”

Jones notes that the number of children living in poverty has increased since the Great Recession, and that the existence of children living in poverty is not only a humanitarian issue, but also a critical public health issue. As she points out, exposure to the myriad problems that accompany an impoverished childhood can lead to a lifetime of disability.

It’s those kinds of stressors like housing insecurity, not being sure if there’s going to be food for dinner, living in a crummy neighborhood with violence, those stressors can impair normal brain development.

Impaired brain development often leads to behavioral outcomes; as anyone who has taught in a low-income area can attest, it affects school performance in a variety of ways. Children of poverty often lack the opportunity or means to develop the sorts of skill sets common among middle and higher income students. That, in turn, affects later access to jobs, trapping such children in a cycle of poverty.

Living in poverty also increases the likelihood of poor health. Living in poverty is a major risk factor for obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and even premature death.

It seems unconscionable that the United States would ignore the lifetime health effects of poverty on poor children who are already living in sub-optimal and stressful conditions.  Even the self-satisfied and clueless scolds who insist that poor people just need to work harder can’t hold children responsible for their impoverished situations.  Surely, even the adamant opponents of Obamacare, Medicaid and other efforts to make health care affordable can’t believe that it is either moral or economically reasonable to deprive children of adequate medical attention.

And surely, even self-described fiscal conservatives must realize that the long-term costs of neglecting the most basic needs of poor children are far higher than the costs of timely intervention.

Why is it that American public policy choices so often make me think of the adage: penny wise, pound foolish?


  1. “Even the self-satisfied and clueless scolds who insist that poor people just need to work harder can’t hold children responsible for their impoverished situations. Surely, even the adamant opponents of Obamacare, Medicaid and other efforts to make health care affordable can’t believe that it is either moral or economically reasonable to deprive children of adequate medical attention.”

    Sheila, the above statement is where you are very wrong about the thoughts of the people in this state that haven’t ever suffered from any financial setbacks. The comments that I still hear from clueless middle class citizens in my area are that people have no excuse for being poor – they just need to get a job and work! They need to stop expecting everyone else to support them!

    Sometimes, I take the time to attempt to open their minds to the roadblocks for “the poor”. I remind them that these people are not lazy. I ask them how they can expect people to work at 2 or 3 part-time minimum wage jobs and still be so financially strapped that they need help from other taxpayers just to have food and a roof over their heads. Their reactions tell me that they hear what I am saying and have not really thought about these situations, but then their eyes and actions tell me that they revert right back to not caring. These are the people that have always had what they want and need and truly don’t care about the people that are struggling. It is the old “I’ve got mine, screw you” mindset.

    Northern Indiana is full of people that just don’t care about their neighbors that are struggling. They still view them as too lazy to work. I don’t think we could ever get these people to change their minds unless they would spend a week or two in the shoes of the people that they condemn. This is the Tea Party mentality that I am surrounded by.

  2. Nancy; the reasoning of the people you mention is why I support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. She is part of and supported by corporate America; has never had a hungry day in her life so cannot comprehend poverty and those who need public assistance by reading statistics. I will vote for her if she gets the nomination but will do it with misgivings and the hope that the Democratic party will be able to reach her regarding the needs of the majority of Americans today. IF the Democratic party wakes up to the reality of how close we are to losing this country to Donald Trump. The rumors that the GOP will split if he gets the nomination are just that; rumors. Another member of corporate American (with family millions behind him) who has no comprehension of needing assistance for basic survival. A man who ended health care for his critically ill brother after cutting him out of their father’s will. Red states have the highest poverty levels yet they follow Trump to the destruction of their own livelihood and survival in the name of racism and bigotry.

  3. JoAnn, like you, I will vote for Bernie Sanders but will support Hillary if she wins the primary. She would at least keep our country from completely imploding.

    Here is a link to a non-profit non partisan Indiana organization that provides statistics on the working poor in Indiana and works to try to get our legislature to understand their struggles and to pass legislation to help them.

  4. Nancy, what you describe is not the mindset of the haves of northern Indiana, it is the mindset of ALL of the haves of Indiana. And they stay in that mindset with the help of the media, the Republican party, the Democratic party, the churches and all of private education. They stay there with the silent complicity of the business community and so called civic leaders. They stay there because it is comfortable and secure. Hypocrisy has become the wall they have built around themselves. They stay there because heaven help them if they ever had to actually accept any responsibility towards anyone but themselves.

  5. Walmart is the largest welfare recipient on this planet. They pay their employees so little that they qualify for food stamps, housing and medicaid and for their children free breakfast and lunches which sucks the tax payers dry in every state. That corporation and many others need to be taken off the welfare roles and yesterday. Raise the minimum wage already! We the taxpayer do not have to support this corporate welfare anymore. All you have to do is read the news of H1-B visa card holders or migrant guest workers for another example of slave labor for immigrant workers that don’t realize what a mess they are getting into by signing that dotted line.

    I found out my 58 yr old brother was laid off from his job recently because he’s too old and too expensive to employ anymore. This one is a tea partier that probably follows Trump and blames Obama for everything too. Too young for social security and medicare and too old to be rehired by some other company that won’t invest in humans. As much as I hate his political views, he will probably die young because he will end up with nothing left to live on if he manages to retire someday. My younger brother lost his life long medical benefit even after 33 yrs of working for the same company when the company got bought out by another mega corporation that won’t honor the long tenure promise of their employees.

    That’s the reality of America today; Corporate greed.

    People that haven’t seen it should see the movie “Where to Invade Next”. We spend un-audited billions on the war machine but deny or worse, SHAME the working poor people who never know when they might get fired or laid off from their job (in these multiple GOP run Right-To-Work states) to end up living in a tent or their car (if they still own one).

    Empathy is America is history.

  6. The neoconservative view is always that any cost is too high. No thought or consideration is ever given to the fallout costs – like going to an ER for treatment, not receiving treatment for a contagious disease, etc. As AgingGirl points out there is plenty of welfare for those that don’t need it, but never enough for those that really do. There is truly no reasoning with the insane.

  7. I have noted that closely held beliefs are impervious to facts.

    We can create many good paying jobs by fixing our infrastructure, but that costs too much. We can improve our future by educating and feeding our children, but that costs too much. We can lower our health care costs by making adequate primary care available to everyone, but that costs too much.

    Those who wish to “make government so small they can drown it in a bathtub,” must truly believe that government is bad and that individuals are good. Hobbes would argue otherwise. The results of their policies have led us to a Hobbesian world. Dickens would be appalled.

  8. It’s not that people better off have no compassion–it is that the very people most hurt by the plantation owners are the most adamant supporters of the very economy that exploits them. No one can admit they aren’t doing well, so they don’t examine why they have so little while the masters have so much. Instead, it’s the cookie analogy–the boss has ten cookies, he eats nine, then turns to you and says, you gonna let him take your cookie? These are the same people who think it is perfectly fine for Jamie Dimon to earn millions and pay 15% (if that) in income tax. The support for the flat tax (which we have in Indiana–must be why we are so well off) comes from the richest and the poorest. Obviously, we reward people for not working all the time. The tax on investment income is ridiculously low. ‘Investors’ aren’t workers. We also have medical ‘tort reform’ in Indiana. Wasn’t that supposed to cure the high cost of medical insurance? Anthem must have missed the memo….And right to work? That was supposed to flood the state with jobs jobs jobs. All it has done is open the labor market even further to temp jobs–which is the only kind of job you can get through Indiana Workforce Development.

  9. AgingLGirl : It is truly unfortunate that corporations are the real Welfare Queens. Until the minimum wage is raised the taxpayers will continue to feed the coffers of those queens

  10. As as nation the US is stupid. We have much to learn from other progressive countries which have little to no poverty. The claim made here that working hard will take you to financial security lags that of other nations, Canada for one, and northern Europe. The inequality of wealth in the US rank us among the third world nations. Our government has built a welfare state for the wealthy. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer applies no where more, among the developed nations, than here at home.

    The big, big problem is that we as a nation piss away our financial resources on having the most expensive military in the world by far. Intellectually superior nations, Switzerland, for example, have recognized the value of not participating in war, thus they have a more idyllic lifestyle. Never have we been in greater need of learning from others what works best for all of our people.

  11. AgingLGrl , Hillary sat on the Board of Directors at Walmart, back when Bill was Governor. Bernie has been right all along the wealth has flowed to the 1% and stopped there. Bernie has also been right about the devastating effects of NAFTA and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, both put into place under Bill Clinton.

    If Bernie loses the nomination I will write his name in.

  12. Louie; if you write-in Bernie’s name if Hillary is the nominee you are giving your vote to whichever Republican fool is running. You will only be splitting the Democratic party. PLEASE; rethink this decision and do not cut our chances of keeping any Democrat in the White House by even one vote.

  13. A) People, particularly in Indiana, are short on empathy.
    B) People, particularly in Indiana, are short on intelligence.
    C) People, particularly in Indiana, get the government they deserve.

    Good luck with that.

  14. Louie, Spouse and I voted in the Democratics Abroad primary this week…Bernie for both of us. I got hubby over on my side when I sent him a few links about Hillary’s awful history. She’s no progressive, she’s a republican like she’s always been. She’s gone left BECAUSE of Bernie’s campaign.

  15. Extremism captures minds by overly considering some aspects of society at the expense of others. Americans come in all races, religions, regions, and situations, contribution and progress from all. We need bankers and businessmen and teachers and cops and soldiers and astronauts and scientists and engineers and lawyers and mothers and fathers and kids and elderly and also garbage men. That results in some wealthy and poor and the majority middle class. The job of government is to keep the machine running while imbalances are being addressed and stability being restored.

    Enormous strides have been made for average citizens resulting in the safest, most empowered and comfortable society ever in history but as in all things better is possible and desirable. Liberals want what conservatives want but for everybody and not at the expense of anybody. That doesn’t mean homogeneity as people are inherently diverse and that’s a large contributor to functional culture.

    So the political question asked by democracy should always be who’s the best balanced. Who can keep all of the balls in the air. Who will maintain what works and adjust what can be improved. Who can take advantage of what government can do and at the same time and with equal passion cheerlead for what business and religion and science and culture can accomplish.

    Not an easy job. Very, very few of us are even remotely qualified.

    The question is is there more than one of current candidates able to do the job?

  16. Louie, I second Earl.

    I’m not advocating a protest vote against Hillary Clinton. I’m just trying to warn how difficult it is going to be to defeat Donald Trump with Hillary Clinton. One response could be a stepped-up effort to support her.

  17. Very well said, obviously passionately felt and even more important than your usual commentary. 35 year after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan as president, the evidence is very clear for those willing to see it that the Republican’s preferred solution of “ever more comfort for the comfortable and ever more affliction for the afflicted” is a failure. It produces slow growth, ever greater inequality and ever more desperation for the needy. Very few of the fortunate ones are willing to acknowledge how much of a hand up they received, from parents who had time to care for them, from excellent teachers who had few other job opportunities, from government investment in the space program, the interstate highway system or from the effectiveness of organized labor in securing good pay and benefits.

    The greatest pressures on the poor and working class are obviously competition from workers in developing nations (greatly enabled by ever more sophisticated manufacturing technology) and the loss of power of organized labor. In the day to day decisions that affect quality of life, health, and the richness of opportunity for our poor and our workers, America has elevated profit above all other values. In a very real way, we reap what we have sown; we have maximized that which we have prioritized.

  18. I just feel bad for the children. I was a public health nurse for Marion county and I am fully aware of where these children are going home too. I then spent 10 years working in child psychiatry, our clinic saw at least 60% Medicaid. Poverty affects every facet of their development. Many paying more in rent to live in sqauler then I did in a decent apartment down in Greenwood; but the inner city at least had a bus to get to and from work. I had single mother’s who would have loved to have taken a job but day care at $200 per week or more was out of the question, especially at the wages they would have made. The other choice is to work 2 or more jobs but not be around to parent your child and allow the streets to raise them.

    I know of too many households that had an influx of people coming and going in the homes and the reason was to help with rent payment but also to help their fellow impoverished person. Too many were forced to constantly move from one place or another. There is just no stability and just by the nature of poverty life become so dysfunctional. It is actually the very rare person who can come up out of this background and do what the middle class and others expect. My heart bleeds for the children.

  19. Louie,I’m with you. If Hillary receives the nomination, I will write in Bernie as well. The Democratic party has been taking some of us for granted for decades and this idea of support for blind tribalism must stop. If poverty has risen over the past few years what has the party done to address it? ACA? Give me a break. The ACA is a gift to the insurance lobby and should be called for what it is; The Heritage Foundation/Republican/Romney Care Act. A vote for Hillary will send the party the wrong message and we will continue to get nothing but more DINO candidates such as Hillary.

  20. One more thing..Republicans represent the 1%. The Democrats represent the following 9%. Everyone else beneath those top percentages do not exist in the minds of the political class of both tribes and the punditry.

    That’s a very large reason as to why poverty is increasing.

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