Poverty and Potential Can Co-Exist

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Once again, we are past the big commercial holidays in the U.S. and heading toward more relaxed ones that offer us less glaring contrasts between the lives of children from homes with comfortable incomes and those who are living closer to or below the edge of poverty level.

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This figure from UNICEF shows the impacts of poverty on basic nutrition. Poverty also shrivels virtually all other “opportunities” one might care to name–even in the U.S., one of the richest countries in the world. (Click image to enlarge.)

Yet all year long, it’s critical to remember that one in five U.S. children live in poverty, so the average classroom of 25 children may have five whose lives are negatively impacted by such circumstances. Research shows that living in poverty inflicts immediate and lasting damage to the chances of those five students to flourish or even basically succeed in their lives.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation,

“Poverty elevates a child’s risk of experiencing behavioral, social, and emotional and health challenges. Child poverty also reduces academic outcomes, undercutting a young student’s capacity to learn, graduate high school and more.”

These burdens are rarely temporary, yet endure and are carried into adulthood to impact the next generation, shaping a crippling cycle of poverty.

Book Desert MapThe Unite for Literacy’s recently updated Global Book Desert Map depicts areas where books are scarce, and corresponds with areas where there are large numbers of people living in poverty. Click the link here and use the various controls to see the predicted concentration of books in your area of the world, identified by color—from dark green book abundance areas to bright red book deserts where there are very few if any books in people’s homes.

The positive attitude regarding lifelong learning that comes so naturally to those who have access to books and choose to read, is an enduring predictor of school success. Low levels of book availability offer children little chance to become avid, lifelong readers. Additionally, the connections between nutrition, economic levels and book availability in the home offer a critical look at the likely health and educational potentials of the children who live these various areas.

Meanwhile, the current administration in Washington has begun efforts to “lower” the poverty line. That action will result in even fewer resources for families whose incomes have not changed, but their official status will have “impoverished” reducing their eligibility for various forms of assistance.

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(Click to enlarge.)

One glimmer of hope are the current statistics showing the prevalence of Internet-connected smartphones in the U.S. Combined with local libraries, these ever more ubiquitous devices can offer a path forward to children who might not otherwise have access to any age-appropriate books. Along with the free, award winning* Unite for Literacy online library, searching for “free children’s books” online will yield dozens of digital books. Some websites offer free books during a trial period, many have a few free books from which to choose, and most local libraries offer online digital books to borrow.

With the help of “smart” technology we can connect children to the saving power of books and minimize the chances that poverty will steal their futures.

*The Unite for Literacy library was recognized by the American Association of School Librarians as a ‘BASSL AwardEST’ internet resource in 2019. 



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