Poverty In America: What It’s Like For A Child To Grow Up Poor

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(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(CBS Charlotte) — In the United States, around 45 percent of children grow up in low-income households. Furthermore, over 20 percent of America’s children grow up living below the poverty line.

Have you ever heard someone say that they didn’t know they were poor growing up?

Being poor is a reality for far too many American children these days, and despite popular belief — many of America’s children living below the poverty line realize that they are indeed poor.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like for a child living in a low-income household to grow up poor?

Too often, well-off Americans view the poor as lazy, or believe that they “milk the system.” Many will look at a poor child, who happens to be obese and make a remark under their breath that the child doesn’t look like he’s “starving.” The reality, however, is that obesity and poverty go hand and hand. This is not necessarily the child’s fault nor is it their parents fault, but rather, it can directly be attributed to the foods that they eat.

It’s easy from the outside for someone else to say that the child’s parents should make healthier food choices, but this isn’t always feasible. Here’s why:

Not all American children are lucky enough to grow up in households that own a vehicle. For these families, they have to rely on public transportation or rides to get to and from the grocery store. This means that they may not visit the store frequently, so when grocery shopping, they opt for foods that are processed and have a long shelf life.

The problem with processed foods is that they are not healthy and they contribute to obesity — but, nevertheless, they are affordable.
Developing a taste for processed foods is something that rarely escapes a poor child. Even when they grow up, assuming that they are lucky enough to escape poverty, their eating habits were set at an early age, and it is extremely difficult for them to learn how to eat healthier — even if they can afford it. In other words, children who are raised poor are often predisposed to a lifelong struggle with their weight and health.

Past their diet, poor children often learn to do without. They are acutely aware that other children have things that they don’t have, and they are also aware of why this is the way that it is. They are aware that mom or dad may have just enough money to get by, or, just enough money to pay the bills. If a child becomes in-tune with which days each month their parent receives a paycheck, they may ask for a new toy or new shoes on payday — to decrease their chances of being told that there is no money to buy such and such item right now.

In school, poor children suffer many disadvantages. They may be extremely intelligent, but despite their intelligence, growing up poor holds them back. Children who grow up in poverty lack opportunities that other children take for granted.

For instance, a child who excels in sports may go unnoticed for years if their parents cannot afford to enroll them in an athletic program.

Additionally, poor children tend to fall ill more often then their wealthier classmates, and as a result, may miss more school — making them susceptible to being held back a grade or two.

Past their school life, a poor child’s home life can be extremely chaotic. If they are growing up in a single-family household, they may spend periods of time home alone — as hiring a babysitter is an expense that many poor parents cannot afford.

Moreover, many poor children grow up in crime-ridden neighborhoods where drug deals are often visible just past their window. As a result, children of low-income households often spend more time indoors and less time outside playing, when compared to children who grow up in nicer neighborhoods.

Poor children are forced to grow up at an alarmingly fast rate — often being robbed of the care-free childhood that all children deserve. While programs designed to assist poor children have made great strides in recent years, our nation as a whole still has a long way to go to ensure that no child is left behind and that every child grows up with the same opportunities available to him or her.

-Nichole Jaworski, CBS Charlotte

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