Poverty: But It Controls Every Aspect of Your Life

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Poverty has been around since the dawn of time, affecting those in its clutches dearly and for generations. In this paper, I will be covering how poverty controls more than when you pay the bills and what you can eat; and how it ties into genetics, addiction, development and incarceration rates. In cases where poverty is prevalent, genes don’t always have the opportunity to express themselves, The impact of growing up impoverished overwhelms children’s genetic capacities indefinitely.

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Home life is the biggest factor for children who live in poverty. Those in upper-class homes are exposed to more mental stimulation and this allows their brain to build necessary neural paths in order for them to thrive in society. I.Q. is relatively genetic too, meaning that well-off families that are offered more opportunities to express their genetics to the full extent will have a higher I.Q. Working class families usually have a lower I.Q. by 12-21 points compared to their richer counterparts. The French adoption study (1994) featured sixty-five adopted children between the ages of four and six, most were abused, neglected and existed in poor living conditions. Their I.Q.’s averaged 77, a rather low score. After they were adopted and stayed with their families for a near decade, the children retook the I.Q. tests, and all of them performed better. The amount they improved was directly related to the adopting family’s economic status. Children adopted by working-class families had average I.Q. scores of 85, those placed with middle-class families had average scores of 92. The average I.Q. scores of those placed in upper-class families rocketed to 98. Studies seem to conflict with each other when the idea of Nature Vs Nurture comes into play. At certain points, it seems to look as though nurture matters more than nature or vice versa – though there’s no definite answer as to which is more important; or which one holds more power over us and our actions. For example; addiction is something that can rely on both.

Addictions are moderate to highly heritable, but The Virginia Twin Study showed that in the adolescence stage use of nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana were strongly determined by family and social factors. With addiction, genes and economic status affect it largely. Genes only play a role in addiction, they don’t cause addiction. This is an important fact. It’s common for a person to be at risk for a mental health disorder and addiction due to genetics, this is referred to as ‘dual diagnosis’. Addiction relies on many different factors that most of the time have to shoot off in rapid succession. These variables tend to be, stress, income, physical or mental health, really a whole plethora of things, every person is different, and will have different reasons to partake in substance abuse. When the economy goes down, unsurprisingly the use of drugs goes up. Higher income citizens recover easier and faster from drug addiction and substance abuse. This is because those with lower income have a lesser chance of ever receiving rehab or the help they need due to the costs; drug addictions are twice as common for lower class citizens than upper-class. Those who reside in impoverished areas may take to drugs to try to make their situation more survivable or less stressful. This is most likely caused by the fact the lower class tend to live in more at-risk areas in order to survive. This makes sense though if I.Q. depends partly on socioeconomic status. It’s a proven fact that more adversity, trauma, and neglect happens to those who are lower class citizens; and that those who have faced numerous adversities have a lower understanding of consequences, so they may return to an activity even knowing the downfalls of it because they do not truly understand the consequences. Unfavorable conditions set up for unfavorable conclusions. So the connection between genetics, addiction, and poverty are becoming more apparent than they already were. Mental health and income are more closely tied as wage declines. For those in poverty, it seems to be a constant set up for failure in certain circumstances. With very little going on for those in lower class households and things looking bleaker and bleaker as time goes on, it makes sense that some will be driven to desperate behaviors and reckless choices.

An estimated 2.5 million people below the poverty line suffer from serious mental illness. About 20% percent of prison inmates have a serious mental illness. In 2016 when the prison population was around 2.3 million, there were around 430,000 inmates suffering from serious mental illness. Most of these inmates will never receive proper treatment while incarcerated. The nation moved abruptly in the mid-1970s from a society that justified putting people in prison on the basis of the belief that incarceration would somehow facilitate productive re-entry into the free-world to one that used imprisonment merely to inflict pain on wrongdoers (“just deserts”), disable criminal offenders (“incapacitation”), or to keep them far away from the rest of society (“containment”). The abandonment of the once-avowed goal of rehabilitation certainly decreased the perceived need and availability of meaningful programming for prisoners as well as social and mental health services available to them both inside and outside the prison. Indeed, it generally reduced concern on the part of prison administrations for the overall well-being of prisoners. Craig Haney University of California, Santa Cruz, December 2001. America’s prison system seems to actively punish poverty, mental illness, and non-violent substance abusers. Sixty-five percent of the nation’s inmates meet the criteria for substance abuse and addiction, but only 11 percent received treatment for their addictions. It’s almost as if America’s current state of correctional facilities profits off of the poor by imprisoning them and forcing them into labor without or meager pay. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world accounting for over 22% of the world’s prisoners. With a private prison industry that incentives mass incarceration it’s not hard to see that America takes advantage of it’s poor and mentally ill, not to mention it’s colored citizens which account for most of its prison population. America’s justice systems have long needed to be reformed. Arrested development is the frozen state of emotional and psychological development, this can be caused by trauma, neglect and substance abuse. According to Erik Erikson’s theory (1959), there’s eight different stages of development those being, infant, child, youth, adolescence, teen, young adults, adults, elders. That also means there are eight stages one can get stuck at a given time. The only known way of recovery as of now is therapy. Which could be a troublesome job for the therapist, trying to guess someone’s psychological age. The real question could be, how to get someone with arrested development into a therapists office or a rehab program in order for them to function in society. This problem seems quite fruitless when realizing that most people stuck in a stage of arrested development likely wouldn’t understand the need to receive help Say someone starts abusing substances at the emotionally volatile age of thirteen and flash forward thirty-four years and suddenly they’re forty-seven and have thrown most of their life away. Of course, having survived this long means they have basic living skills and exist in some sort of a community. On the other side, this combination tends to mean they are still on the same emotionally charged level as when they were thirteen, this level, at this physical age of forty-seven will not be as intense but it’s certainly not mild either. This emotional ‘freezing’ proves a large problem for a number of past addicts, and current ones, too afraid of seeking help or admitting there’s a problem, they tend to stagnate at their emotional age.

A number of these people stuck in a younger stage of arrested development will be incarcerated at some point in their life. Incarceration not only stalls the development even longer but has shown a decline in inmates developmental trajectory. Realistically cases of arrested development aren’t going to disappear. Substance abuse and trauma will most likely always continue to exist unless something drastic changes. Nevertheless, the human body is equipped with the human brain which continues to be malleable throughout life, so recovery is always an option for those stuck in a stage of arrested development. On August 16, 1989, Freddie Gray was born in the West Baltimore neighborhoods, a lower class area, and lived in a downtrodden house with peeling lead paint. Which is worrisome as lead paint was banned in 1978 by Congress, due to its cognitive effects, on I.Q and behavior, leading to deficits in attention and raised aggression. Children who have been poisoned with lead are seven times more likely to drop out of school and six times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system (Norton). Exposure to lead in early adolescence increases the chances of failing standardized third-grade testing. Which is the critical point for most children, as they can get left behind more easily as this is the age they will begin to grasp new concepts that rely on an adept understanding of past learnings. Children that fail this test and don’t receive the help they need are likely to become high school dropouts and are at a higher risk of incarceration. Many Baltimore slumlords haven’t bothered to comply with the ban on lead paint, which has affected nearly 93,000 children. This goes back over one hundred years ago where redlining, house discrimination, and segregation were prominent.

Where Baltimorean lawyers and landlords took advantage of already disadvantaged African Americans and trapped them into a cycle of poverty and lead exposure. This was a product of racism and prejudice. The effects are still being felt to this day, with new studies coming out linking lead exposure to violence and mental disabilities. One study showing that even a small exposure to lead leaves permanent harrowing effects on the brain. The problem is that; despite these new studies coming out with alarming facts, most politicians believe the lead problem was solved long ago, unable to see past their ignorance and accept the fact that this has been an ongoing issue for years and will continue to be so until direct action is taken. At a point direct action was being taken, compensation was being provided to those suffering from brain damage by lead exposure, Grays family was one of those that planned to receive compensation. Compensation consisted of monthly payments of $1,000 for 35 years. Sleazy companies saw this an opportunity, understanding that some clients didn’t even know how to read or grasp certain concepts they would swoop in on those and promise fast money as long as they signed a contract. This contract allowed them to take most of the money and leave them a dismal amount. In 2013, Freddie Gray ended up selling $146,000 of his settlement for only $18,300. On April 19, 2015, Freddie Gray at twenty-five, died in a coma; this was preceded by an attack by multiple policemen, due to him maybe having an illegal switchblade on his body. Grays death ignited the match for riots all over Baltimore – which resulted in 113 injured police officers, two deaths and one burn victim. The riots took over the city, resulting in the looting of many pharmacies and stores. (Two cops were later found to be guilty of selling drugs taken from the lootings). The news coverage on Grays death and the riots that followed was abysmal. Too many left out facts and exaggerations.

As an arguing point, most would point to Grays track record. A sort of blind ignorance would follow. Their arguments, based on prejudice and arrogance, only served to stir the already boiling over pot, causing even more of a disturbance in an already fragile state. Freddie Grays death was arguably attributed to years of prejudice and racism. He got unlucky with his roll of the dice. Born into abject poverty and lead exposure, odds were stacked against him from the start. His life shows poverty’s effects. Serious mental illness can disrupt everyday living in prominent ways – major depression for example (which is extremely prominent in lower class households) has symptoms of lethargy, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. This can have a large effect on work or school attendance. Which only serves to make breaking the cycle of poverty even harder. Poverty essentially controls every aspect of a person’s life; especially if they were born into it. People in poverty will naturally live in more at-risk areas, which has a large impact on their mental health and ability to break the cycle of poverty that they will most likely be stuck in for the rest of their lives. They are at risk for more diseases and mental health issues. There is a common belief that the poor deserve to be poor and that the cycle of poverty can so easily be broken with hard work and a savings account. There’s something about poverty that sucks the hope out of the human soul and creates a sense of pure loss. When a child is born it will most likely be born into a financial state that will stay that way. It’s a roll of the dice that decides on so many factors that it’s troublesome to think about. To understand the pure implication of poverty itself makes life seem trivial and rigged.

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