The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and at latest count, more than 16 million American children are living in poverty, right this minute. While their lives may be bleak now, new research shows that even if they do manage to pull themselves out of the poverty they were raised in, those kids will struggle to become functional adults.
An emerging field of research is finding that inside the minds of poor children, the struggle for emotional and economic stability has lifelong effects, leaving them emotionally stunted and intellectually disadvantaged—permanently.
Research published by the National Academy of Sciences found that children who grew up with severe stress in their early lives, like orphans, have "altered brain circuitry" that affects their amygdala function.
As The Atlantic puts it, experiencing poverty is like knocking 13 points off your IQ, or perpetually trying to function on a missed night of sleep.
That's the lifelong impact of the mental bandwidth it takes for children who live in poverty to do so many things that others take for granted: Getting up to get dressed in clothes that fit, and suffering the sense of dread that humiliation looms in their inferior duds. Breakfast is rarely a certainty. Transportation to school may mean getting a ride, or navigating a dangerous neighborhood on foot.
And by the time a poor child reaches an overcrowded classroom, where other students may have had a wild morning of their own, learning presents its own challenges.
The worst of it is that children are completely blameless for the worlds they are born into. There are those of us who were lucky enough to be born into stable homes where they are provided for and nurtured. But for many, school is a brief, daily respite from a miserable existence.
America's destitute millions rely on the program to simply survive. The program gives food access to households that live in deep poverty—more than 80 percent of SNAP recipients have annual incomes of less than 19,500 for a family of three.
In all, the expiration of the 2009 Recovery Act's temporary boost to the program will cut benefits for 21 million children—that's 25 percent of all American children.
And Congress is working on even more cuts in the next farm bill.
Maybe they're hoping future generations will be so intellectually bankrupt that they won't study history to see where this country went wrong.