Poor Babies Set up for a Lifetime of Illness

Living in poverty — even in utero — can lead to a lifetime of poor health, a new study by a team led by Cornell researcher Kathleen Ziol-Guest has found.

The scientists tracked people whose families lived in poverty in the year before they were born through age two. As adults, they suffered from high blood pressure and arthritis at twice the rate of people from more fortunate backgrounds. These diseases showed up at young ages in the study group. Study volunteers were being diagnosed with arthritis by age 30.

Poor health may account for the low incomes that the study revealed in the group. They had an average annual income of $21,600 and worked fewer hours annually than their peers (1,460 vs. 1,877).

The study does not identify a cause for this disturbing legacy. We know that stress has an effect on the immune system, and few things are more stressful than living in poverty. We also know that income affects nutrition, hygiene and access to health care.

Why these children suffer from a lifetime of ill health and resulting poverty isn’t the most pressing question. The most pressing question is: What are we going to do about it?

Ziol-Guest shared some excellent ideas with the news organization Futurity in the excerpt below:

The study points to the importance of policies that increase financial resources available to families with young children, Ziol-Guest says. “Our findings indicate that the incomes of the most economically disadvantaged families should be of greatest concern, particularly during the years when these families have young children.”
Programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and child tax credits could help boost the income of families during that critical period, Ziol-Guest says.

“Targeting these or similar programs to families with very young children may offer the largest benefit for health and well-being in later life and give us more bang for our buck in an era of rapidly rising health care costs.”

A relatively small early investment will pay off for the rest of a person’s life. This is an idea demonstrated by such a large volume of research that it should be accepted as an axiom. Think of the savings in health care costs and the benefits of increased economic production from people unimpaired by ill health.

More importantly, think of the kids. One in five American children lives below the poverty level. Are we really willing to let them walk into a future of life-limiting and life-threatening illness?

Henry David Thoreau said, “Every child begins the world again.” That’s simply not true for poor kids. There will be a few sparkling exceptions that people fond of moralizing about “bootstraps” will point to repeatedly. For most poor kids, however, the world will move along on the same bumpy path it did for their parents and grandparents. The world does not begin again for every child.

But it should.

Follow Joanne Goldblum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgoldblum

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post, on December 5, 2012

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Chart of the day

Although diapers cannot be bought with food stamps or WIC, families that received cash assistance through TANF could use that money to buy diapers (provided there was any money left after buying other necessities). As the amount of unrestricted cash assistance diminishes, families no longer have discretion to use any TANF money they might get to buy diapers. Diaper banks are more critical than ever. Give generously to your local diaper bank. Contact us to find your local diaper bank or for help in starting a diaper bank near you. http://DiaperBankNetwork.org. Help us close the diaper gap!

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According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (pdf),

Many policymakers continue to claim that the 1996 welfare reform law which created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was a major success. They see the TANF program’s design and block grant structure as a model for the reform of other safety net programs.

TANF’s record over the last 15 years shows, however, that its role as a safety net has declined sharply over time. In 1996, for every 100 families with children living in poverty, TANF provided cash aid to 68 families. By 2010, it provided cash assistance to only 27 such families for every 100 in poverty. . .

The 1996 welfare law gave states broad flexibility over how to design their TANF programs and allocate state and federal TANF funds. This is one reason why the decline in TANF-to-poverty ratios was much more…

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Governmental Belt-tightening–Who is Getting Squeezed and at What Cost?

As the economic hangover of the recession continues, states struggle to balance their budgets in the face of declining revenue and the perception (real or imagined) that taxpayers are reluctant to see an increase in their taxes.  Because  this economic stormy weather has long ago depleted the rainy day funds of many states, many states have resorted to cutting services to balance their budget.  Because state governments provide many services to those who do not have the means to satisfy their basic needs on their own, many of these cuts have disproportionately affected the neediest among us.  And after years of such cuts, the impact is quite severe.

In The Nation, Greg Kaufmann discusses the effect of continuous budget cuts to the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program.  Kaufmann notes that  Illinois provides TANF benefits—which is cash assistance—to just 13 of every 100 families with children in poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Prior to welfare reform in 1996 the state helped nearly 87 of every 100 families with children in poverty. Further, the benefit level is only 28 percent of the federal poverty line, or roughly $4,800 annually for a family of three, similar to that in a majority of states.  So as the ranks of people living below the poverty line increase, the state is less able to help keep people above the poverty line.

The New York Times reports that years of budget tightening have caused Texas to cut funding to schools, resulting in cuts to all but the most essential aspects of school–no music classes, reduced bussing and janitorial services–and some of the most essential aspects of school, increasing class sizes as schools reduce the ranks of their teaching faculty.  In an economic future in which workers will need to rely ever more on their knowledge base and education, students will be at a disadvantage as their educational opportunities are stunted in overcrowded classrooms taught by teachers taking on second jobs to make ends meet themselves.

And in another report from The Nation, programs designed to help people secure that most basic of needs–shelter–are woefully underfunded, as county waitlists for Section 8 are flooded with thousands of applications for only a hundred openings.  The federal housing agency’s annual assessment finds that “worst-case housing needs” grew by 42 percent from 2001 to 2009, and nationwide there is a shortfall of nearly 3.5 million housing units for the poorest households.

What is most frustrating to those of us working to ensure that people’s basic needs are met is the growing evidence that governmental austerity is not the solution to the economic crisis, and may only serve to make matters worse.  As Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes in US News and World Report, “Cutbacks in government spending at the federal as well as state and local levels are already hurting GDP growth. In the absence of federal revenue sharing with the states–the first time the federal government has not had such a program when unemployment is above 7 percent–state and local government expenditures have fallen for seven consecutive quarters.”

Moreover, the economic insecurity that accompanies governmental belt tightening trickles down to individuals’ belt-tightening, hitting charitable donations.   Researchers in the UK and the Netherlands determined that when people feel less secure about their economic resources, they give less.

This thesis appears to be borne out during the prolonged economic downturn.  In October 2010, the Journal of Philanthropy reported a sharp decline in charitable giving to America’s largest charities–indeed the largest decline since the journal began recording charitable giving.  The next year the picture was a bit brighter; however the slight rise in giving did not erase the devastating effects of the recession, the Journal of Philanthropy reported in October, 2011.

This belt tightening does not appear to improve the economy in the short term.  But it does seem likely to most directly and severely affect the lives of those with the greatest need.   Our national economic hangover will continue that much longer as we deal with the effects of a growing homeless population, whose children’s educational opportunities are stunted, most likely resulting in further extended dependence on public and private aid.  Thus, the need for individuals to step up and help fill the void is all the more important.  Consider making a donation to NDBN today.

As Welfare Limits are Reached, Holes in the Safety Net Open

As Welfare Limits are Reached, Holes in the Safety Net Open

Interesting article in the New York Times on the effect of Welfare Reform which imposed limits to aid, resulting in reduced caseloads not because people are no longer poor but because they’ve been poor too long.

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