“They are like straw before the wind, and like chaff that a storm carries away” (Job 21: 18).
Often, those of us not raised in dire poverty fail to understand the chaos of that environment.
The electricity is turned off, and homework is not done. The ceiling falls in, literally. The grocery bag rips, the eggs smash, and there is no dinner. Children sleep in the bathtub as their only defense against drive-by shootings. An intoxicated neighbor sets the house on fire. An argument over sneakers escalates into a shooting. Police arrest a parent, and the children go into foster care.
No Safety Nets
There are no safety nets. There are no margins for error. What to the rest of us might be an inconvenience, at worst a minor hardship, can be devastating to the poor. Progress is impossible. A youthful indiscretion may cost a life.
Is there any wonder that long range consequences are imperfectly understood? These children have not been in a position to predict from one hour to the next what may befall them.
Disappointed and Discouraged
Children in poverty face constant disappointment, and daily discouragement from the adults around them. Promises must be broken again and again. Some of the criticism may actually be an attempt by adults to protect their children against the bias they are expected to face. Underachievement is perceived as “safer” than success.
Not all such criticism is intended, however, to be benign. Many adults – themselves defeated by poverty – view the potential achievements of others as an indictment, a reflection on their own efforts.
This repeated exposure to unexpected trauma, this constant barrage of negative feedback, results not only in insecurity, but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. There is no one to rely on, and no escape.
Stress on Families
Poverty places enormous stress on families which are already vulnerable. This is not meant to imply that the poor are incapable of feeling.
Parents living in poverty desire the same advantages for their children they see enjoyed by others. This can, itself, lead to bad decisions. What little money there is available may be expended on computer equipment or other electronics, while the family struggles to keep food on the table.
Moreover, the problems of parents are passed onto and replicated by their children. A mother, whose own credit has been exhausted, may take out credit cards in the names of her minor children, thereby saddling the children with a marred credit history before they are old enough to read.
The future is sacrificed to the present.
Chaff in the Wind
While they may be chaff in the wind, children in poverty are not in some way “deficient” or undeserving. Whatever mistakes their parents may have made, these children come into the world with hopes as bright and shining as those of any child.
Poverty has many causes; it must be attacked on many fronts. No matter how well intended, government programs alone cannot eradicate poverty. Poverty can, however, be impacted by government. That is the lesson from President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
Unless and until we commit to its eradication, as individuals and as a nation, children raised in poverty will continue to be victims of chaos.
Originally posted 3/8/15
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