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America's Decades-Long Struggle With Poverty

America's poverty state is at the lowest compared to countries in similar standing regarding wealth. In his 2015 book Poverty & Power, Edward Royce writes that, compared to seven other similarly developed nations, the U.S. exemplifies the highest poverty rate at 17 percent, with a "relative poverty line" at half of the country's median income. The distribution of government funds has much to do with this; however, most importantly, the U.S. needs to implement programs that target poverty and the state of education in schools at its source. We can determine what areas need more funding by looking at different theories and ideals created by various groups. Overall, it has been determined that poverty can be tackled at its routes through better education programs from birth and an increase in access to high-quality schools. We shall also assess why families in poverty are not investing in quality education if they know their children need to avoid continuing that same cycle in adulthood.

The number of Americans in poverty can be explained by the idea that those struggling with poverty do not prioritize earning money, getting a good education, or ending that cycle. They have other concerns in life, such as addictions and intellectual struggles. This is proven by the Human Capital Theory, the idea that poor people are poor because they do not care. They do not want to take advantage of government assistance, of which, according to Michael Tanner's article How Government Causes Poverty in Cato's Letter, there were around 700 billion dollars in 2018 that were assigned to anti-poverty programs set in place by the federal government. There are plenty of high-quality schools across America that simply are not being taken advantage of. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2019, two million teenagers were considered high school dropouts. Instead of focusing on their studies as they should, these teenagers stay at home, drinking and using illicit substances instead. Any government assistance that goes to fight poverty and improve education in the country will not do any good, as those who need it have historically not taken advantage of such aid.

Because of the lack of access to necessary resources, many families living in poverty are not aware of the government resources they have, as their main focus is to survive and raise their families to do the same. These people do not have the time to find all the help they can get, much less apply. For some struggling families cannot receive any government aid due to the threshold of poverty being too low. As of 2012, The U.S. Census Bureau stated a rate of poverty at $23,283 for a family consisting of two adults and two children, when the cost of living is still so much higher. More factors should be considered when talking about poverty rates, such as the number of children, cost of childcare, and amount of money spent on any form of transportation needed to get by. As for education, it is not true that lower-class families do not concern themselves with the quality of the schools they send their children to, but instead that they have no other choice. Since school funding is commonly based on property taxes, people who live in low-income areas are naturally going to have to attend lower-quality schools, even when there may be a much better school within walking distance. County lines can also impact what schools parents can choose to send their children to, as even if you live close to a high-quality school, your property is technically past the border of who can attend. Private schools can be an option for upper-class families. However, the exorbitant cost of private education is too much for a lower-class family to even consider without financial assistance of some sort.

Elaborating on the idea that families living in poverty do not have access to high-quality education, we can look at the Lack of Access Theory. To put it clearly, families stay in poverty due to a lack of accessibility to quality schools for their children. Whether it be due to physical distance and no access to buses or vehicles, the excessive costs for even a single child or the cutting of government funding for quality schools, most families who want their children to have a better future do not have the resources necessary to provide for them. Low-quality schools often do not have teachers and faculty who can assist students in college and financial aid, and the parents cannot do any better if they have never attended college themselves. As the years go on, the cost of college has disproportionately increased compared to past generations. Increasing at an inflation rate of 6.27% every year, the cost of a college education worth $20,000 in 1977 is now worth over $300,000 as of 2022.

By allotting more federal assistance to quality education in poverty-stricken regions of America, we can tackle the rising poverty rates at the root problem. If more funding is provided to schools without raising the cost, students will receive a quality education that will prepare them for the following stages of their lives. For higher education levels, the idea of community college should be seen as something more positive rather than negative. The low costs can help students attend without taking out an excessive amount of loans and may not have to go too far from their family if we establish more and more of this type of higher education. When it comes to universities and 4-year schools, more money should be allotted to need-based scholarships to help poverty-stricken students finance college. The Tennessee Promise Program has proved it as one example that when education is free and accessible to all, graduation rates will rise, and more people will attend college when they never thought it to be possible before.

We can look at different ideas surrounding why students are dropping out, not graduating, and not earning above the poverty line in their future careers. During a human's lifetime, the best moment to educate and help a child's learning and intellectual development is to teach them new info around the age of three. This is relatively young for most elementary schools to accept students at that age, so we must look at other ways to utilize that crucial time in the child's brain development. Using the Early Learning Theory, which states that poor people are stuck in the cycle of poverty due to being behind other children in development by the time they reach school age, we can conclude that daycares and preschool programs can significantly benefit both children and end to the cycle of poverty. This theory states the idea that intelligence has nothing to do with poverty. However, knowledge and education can either enforce or deforce the continuation of poverty's cycle. This is something that makes the cycle of poverty so hard to be in because these children have no choice whether or not they are being set up for success. It falls on the U.S. to provide quality education accessible to parents, and the parents themselves to utilize this sort of governmental aid.

To go along with the ideals of the Early Learning Theory, the Matthew Effect Theory states that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Since families living in poverty do not have the money or resources to utilize their child's brain development to their advantage, it makes it harder for them to catch up to their peers once they reach school age. However, the wealthier families of America can invest in every early learning opportunity they wish. They can get daycare and preschool, stay home and teach their children themselves, and even pay for the best of private education they can find. These families also have more time on their hands to find and take advantage of resources. Even if there are resources for lower-class families, they do not have the time or knowledge to utilize these resources to the best of their abilities. There is not enough government aid directed towards those in poverty and almost no way to find these resources themselves. Upper-class families can afford to utilize the idea of a stay-at-home parent, spending time with their child and promoting their developmental needs. This, in turn, puts the richer child at an advantage at school, helping them jump ahead of their classmates simply because of the wealth and status of their parents. Because of the lack of time and resources that families in poverty face, they cannot always rise above and out of poverty.

America's most significant public safety crisis is poverty, and we can no longer ignore the issue. 40.5 million Americans live in unsafe conditions, struggling with the effects of poverty every single day. The likelihood of the rates decreasing on their own is slim, and there is so much more we can be doing than just waiting for the issue to solve itself. More money and aid should be allotted to impoverished families, and the thresholds of poverty should increase as inflation does, making more people rightfully eligible for needed government assistance. The grants and aid available to impoverished families should be made better known so more people can take advantage and get the assistance they need.

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Children in schools need better attention and better learning opportunities. By investing in high-quality, low-cost, and free education for young children, we create a system that lets people fight against poverty better than they ever could before. Cities and more rural areas should offer better transportation to schools, such as buses, so parents do not have to worry about getting each kid to their respective schools and jobs.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Melanie Wynne

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