The notion of poverty is all too easy to disregard in one’s mind as, “not my problem.” Indeed, for those of us lucky enough to be reading this in the comfort of our warm homes or at the office it can be difficult to imagine what impoverished individuals go through every day. However, ponder this sobering thought: nearly everyone could be just one unfortunate life event away from poverty. A job layoff, medical diagnosis or major home repair can topple even the most stable of lives. In fact, 78 percent of individuals living in poverty are employed, and 25 percent have at least a high school diploma.
According to Curt Krueger of Catholic Social Services, “Poverty is everything from the street person you see downtown to the person in the cubicle next to you at work that you never dreamed was having financial problems.” Poverty affects all types of people from all backgrounds.
And all too often, it’s families that fall into the poverty trap.
There are currently more than 6,500 families in poverty in Lancaster County. Of those families, more than half are headed by a single mother. Furthermore, 22 percent of Lancaster County children under the age of five are in poverty. The added stress that comes from providing for a family only compounds the challenge, both financially and emotionally.
“[The mother’s] challenge is finding a job that also allows her to utilize quality child care and obtain transportation for getting children to care and her to work,” says Vi See, executive director of Community Action Partnership. “The emotional challenge of ensuring that you fulfill the basic needs of your children plus giving them those experiences they recognize other children are enjoying is huge.”
Of course, the repercussions for a child growing up in poverty extend beyond going to bed hungry. “Being in an impoverished family is even more unsettling because of the impact on the kids,” says Krueger. “Poverty affects their nutrition, their sleep habits and their socialization skills. All of these impact their psychosocial and their educational development.”
Because of this impact, it is common for children living in poverty to lack the education and skills they need as adults to climb out of poverty. And when that generation has children, they’ll likely face the same challenges. To truly break this cycle, a long-term solution is required. As See explains, “Funders and program providers recognize the need to lengthen the vision. Stabilizing the ability to meet basic needs then committing attention to asset building is not accomplishable in months or years. Few people are successful in their first attempts in changed behavior. Two generational, sometimes multi-generational approaches must be common.”
United Way is committed to both meeting the needs of individuals and families in need, as well as to a long-term vision to lessen the grip of poverty in our community.