Ideally, giving birth to a child should be beneficial to the parents life as well as society; however, financially underprivileged teenagers are becoming pregnant without the benefit of marriage or completed education. Many of these women can either, not afford or are unwilling to purchase contraceptives; their children suffer the consequences. Organizations like Planned Parenthood help by contributing free contraceptives to minors, but few are capable of getting to a location to receive that help. The majority of these women are finding themselves and their children existing in a vicious cycle of poverty.
A plentitude of financially-handicapped women end up, essentially, on their own due to lack of commitment from the child’s father or support of one’s family and are totally responsible for the burden of parenthood. Twin Cities Urban Coalition stated, “In the ‘80s, one in nine children were growing up in a single parent family. [Then], in the ‘90s one in six children lives in a single parent home, usually the mother’s.
” Poor single parents and their children face many adversities in society, and solutions need to be explored and put into action.
Many complications arise when poor women, without a primary group, have no means to pay for proper prenatal care. ‘[A] primary group is usually fairly small and is made up of individuals who generally engage face-to-face in long-term emotional ways,” (Openstax 118). This support would be there to help them take precautionary steps allow the way of pregnancy, due to the emotional nature it has on the individual.
Proper prenatal care is essential to the health and well being of the mother and child. Without this care, the mother and child both run the risk of future complications. The 1990 United States Census, Kids Count data concluded, “Babies born to mothers that were poor during pregnancy are more likely to have birth weights of less than five pounds, suffer mental disabilities, be physically disabled, and even death.” In many situations, the poor woman’s ignorance of her own body leaves her unaware that she has become pregnant. In cases such as those, many women unknowingly disobey the norms usually followed by expectant women and continue to use drugs, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and continue with an unhealthy lifestyle, while the developing embryo lies helpless in the womb, subject to their mother’s unawareness.
A large number of children begin their lives with the variable of being poor, having many physical and mental obstacles to overcome. A study done at Guam University provides evidence that growing up poor in the United States causes the development of a theoretical perspective: “Low birth weights of infants indicate that poverty generally has a negative effect on children physically, and in addition, affects the children’s emotional and intellectual development.” The study also states, “Children living in poverty are most at risk of being abused, and that most often the abusers are poor, young women that have been in trouble with the law.” The study concluded, “Income was a better predictor than status of I.Q. among the children.” In many cases, children who experience the many possible adversities that are associated with being poor find, as they age, obstacles continually manifest. As many of these children grow older, they find themselves having confused ideologies because the family unit they are part of is much different than the stereotypical family. The children’s lives have no real stability, the constant changes create anomie. Therefore, single parenthood, job changes, poor living conditions, school absences, drug abuse, violence, alcoholism, ridicule, labeling, and physical and verbal abuse become common occurrences in their lives. Kim Pemberton, an author from the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver, B.C., interviewed Dr. Margaret Norman, a pathologist at B.C.’s Children’s Hospital. Norman states, “[In 1995] 665 abused children were taken to B.C.’s Children’s Hospital, and that children in poverty situations are the most at risk of being abused.” She found that, “The number of abused children seen by child-abuse teams have quadrupled since 1982.” Many of these children came from homes that were below the poverty level. Dr. Norman added, “Physicians, psychiatrists, and hospitals are seeing rises in the amount of child abuse cases.” She continues, “These abused children, upon arrival at the medical center, are examined and evaluated.” The medical team uses its resources in its endeavor to eliminate return visits to the medical center in a worsened state of abuse. Abuse is only one of the instabilities that poor children all too often must endure; there are usually several- and they have a direct correlation to their future development.
Many children who grow up in poverty end up education-system-dropouts with poor social skills, and they often feel a sense of defeat at an early age which affects their lives in several negative ways. These children observe, first hand, the hardships of a life of poverty and are sometimes forced to leave the educational system to basically fight for their survival in the streets. Dr. Elizabeth M. Timbelake, during an empirical study, evaluated two hundred six-to-twelve-year-old homeless children. Her study revealed, “Destitute children exhibited significant variations in their psychosocial interaction in classrooms, individual interpretation of homeless, coping mechanisms, and academic achievement.” Timbelake added, “Few children adapted to their destitution and recorded limited academic success, limited psychosocial strengths in the classroom, and did not consider themselves helpless while facing uncertainties.” In this situation the children become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “[The] concept is defined by sociologist Robert K. Merton as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Merton explains that with a self-fulfilling prophecy, even a false idea can become true if it is acted upon,” (Openstax 85). Many of these children strive to get out of the situation they are in, make better for themselves and those to come after them; yet, from their predispositions, it is far too harrowing for them and they revert back to where they started or even farther lost. The deep-seated feelings of inadequacy these children feel often compels them to a life in the street where they find security and acceptance in the regime of a street gang. Violence and gang activities have become a way of life for an always increasing number of low-income American children who substitute gang members for family members. A productive life for these children is not only limited, but the knowledge of the overwhelming effects on them and society is often overlooked and ignored.
How can society expect to bring up intelligent children with respect for others and responsible behaviors if these children have no respect for themselves? The social structure that these children are born into and then raised in is a structure filled with disappointments, hardships and instability. Being poor produces problems from the moment the woman is impregnated. Moreover, growing up poor takes an incredible tool on the children in several different aspects of life. Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to be abused both physically and mentally, continue the welfare cycles, drop out of school, and be educated. This class of children are at higher risk than all other classes to be involved with alcohol, drugs, and violence. In fact, the violence could range from simple peer pressure to being gunned down because they happen to be standing on the wrong street corner or wearing the wrong color. These growing children fight for their lives on a daily basis, and they must do this without being educated in social skills, managing stress, or being responsible. Is it any wonder that these children continue with the cycle of poverty? Their behavior is formed and dictated by the information they piece together from the observations that are made from their social environments.
There are several contributing factors in the surge of poverty in the United States. To begin with, there is the decline in real wages; people who are working full time jobs are not making a large enough wage to bring themselves above the poverty level. Sociologist David Ellwood, in his book Sociology in a Changing World stated, “Among two parent families who are poor, 44 percent had at least on parent working full time.” Elwood states, “Work does not always guarantee a route out of poverty.” In many cases, divorce, death of a spouse, or being unwed leads to single parent families with the primary caregiver being female. Elwood added, “Female-headed families sometimes become financially impaired because in the United States society it is more difficult for a woman to support a family on her own than it is for a man.” Another influence on poverty is unpaid child support. In many poverty cases the parent who is separated from the family is ordered by the legal system to pay a percentage of his/her income into child support to subsidize the family’s income. But, the lack of funds, or plain disobedience of the law, inhibits payment. In effect, the family’s income drops below poverty level. Other factors that contribute to poverty and is hard on the economy are: teenage pregnancy, the failing welfare system, and young families with HIV.
People who are living in poverty need help from governmental agencies and the general public and, in turn, the assistance that is rendered to the poor will improve their situation and society as a whole. It is unethical and portends ill for the United States’ future to stand by and allow a growing portion of its population to continue slipping deeper into unacceptable, unhealthy, and unproductive living conditions. If everyone worked together to improve the condition of poverty-stricken Americans to achieve a self-sufficient lifestyle, the United States could rejuvenate itself and become a more productive country. Ultimately, through public awareness and self-reliance, crime could be lowered, abused children could be handled in a more efficient manner, and the standard of living could improve for all people. In fact, the U.S. can achieve these goals through education, self-help, stress management, and social programs. For example, social programs could be initiated in the public school system that relayed positive values, support systems, and social counseling. Also, volunteer supervision after school programs could tutor problem students. The program would help the children manage his/her stress by getting them off the streets. Plus, the parents would be able to work more hours because their children would be cared for.
Real solutions to America’s poverty problem needs to be considered, understood, and put into action to create upward mobility for our under-privileged. Upward mobility is defined as “an increase—or upward shift—in social class,” (Openstax 199). Class is defined by factors of wealth, income, race, education, and power. A good base for social reform would be a more realistic minimum wage. Minimum wage in the U.S is $7.85 an hour, working a 40 hour week with fifteen percent taxes (being a generous low) taken out leaves you with approximately $1,050 coming to you every month. It is believed that without rent, the average cost of living for a single person in the U.S. is $13,200 annually, making minimum wage significantly below what is necessary for basic living expenses. Offering the poor real forms of housing instead of shelters can be beneficially. Putting them in a proper home environment to raise their families can help their children grow and develop with a better sense of home life and structure in the home environment. Active youth programs can allow children outside influences that can build character and sense of self. Outreach programs can help get children from the streets and into a sheltered environment for just a few extra hours a day. Counseling for children and adults should be available to all groups of Americans that need public assistance. There are many difficulties faced by the poor that go unaddressed and are very traumatic, allowing them a way to express what they have experienced and get constructive help would allow them to grow in character and, in ways, power. In conclusion, the American Government, together with its people, should focus resources toward helping the poor and, in turn, the results will benefit us all. In addition, every United States citizen, now and in future generations, deserve the hope, dignity, and the opportunity for an acceptable, successful and productive lifestyle. Conditions one is born into should not set them back. The United States as a society needs to open its mind and heart to find ways to help.