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The Lasting Effects of Intergenerational Poverty

Poverty is a multifaceted and nuanced issue that takes many forms; it is not as simple as insufficient money. Specifically in the United States, social mobility and learned helplessness are crucial features of inequalities regarding socioeconomic opportunities. These factors rely on various social and biological mechanisms acting at multiple levels. Intergenerational associations between poverty and family structure are strong but operate through independent pathways manifested through childhood development, substance misuse, abuse, mental health, and race. The cycle of poverty can trap families for generations; with many challenges and disparities feeding into each other, the process is challenging to stop.

Focusing on childhood development- one pathway associated with intergenerational issues of poverty and family structure- introduces a realm of underlying traumas that support the idea that poverty is a cycle. A core American ideal is that all children should have a clear pathway to thrive and prosper as adults. Yet, children in poverty face steep obstacles to economic success. These children are significantly less likely to succeed economically as adults than their less-poor counterparts, and the economic effects go beyond those carried by these children. Child poverty costs the United States billions of dollars annually in lost productivity, poor health, and crime expenses. For the sake of upcoming generations being born into a life full of disadvantages, privileged people cannot ignore poverty. Yet, these same select individuals and institutions are crucial in providing necessary resources and knowledge to those trapped in the cycle. For instance, education is a relevant matter to be discussed. However, in the debate over fixing American public education, many believe that schools alone cannot overcome economic disadvantage's impact on a child. Life outcomes are set by poverty and family circumstances, and education only works once other problems are solved. The attempt to restructure the American education system favoring impoverished children is nearly only possible with preventative measures instilled in children's home life. Once structural problems are identified, a pathway to economic success is undeniable.

The idea of learned helplessness is one of many explanations for how substance abuse, specifically alcohol and drug addictions, contributes to the multigenerational alliance between poverty, family structure, and the resulting dangers of childhood development. Priorities and morals remain confused when living in poverty or a white-trash environment. When faced with an uncontrollable situation, impoverished individuals stop trying to change their circumstances, even when they can. Because of this mindset, alcoholism affects the lower class more than the rest of the population in its various manifestations. Drug addicts are often incapable of maintaining a regular job or source of income, leading to multiple forms of deviant behavior. As a result, structural violence can be seen as the cause and consequence of drug addiction. The odds toward irregular behavior later in life are high when a child's modeled behavior is a guardian experiencing and romanticizing addiction.

Treatment options for low-income Americans with addiction must be emphasized to discourage continuous substance abuse behavior and prevent children from exposure to their parent's or guardians' alcohol and drug dependency. The cost of rehab can deter low-income Americans from struggling with addiction; however, there are many payment options for treatment. Access to affordable care has been an ongoing issue in our nation. Governmental institutions must do everything they can to move towards progression instead of denying help because it is inconvenient for the privileged.

Since those in poverty cannot maintain a regular source of income and keep their morals in line, deviant behavior follows, stemming from frustration to make ends meet. Such nonconformist behavior may indicate parental abuse, resulting from substance misuse and, thus, years of neglect and trauma throughout childhood since there are little to no ties towards a community and a sense of family when in poverty, physical aggression is a likely result of releasing frustration and coping without trailing consequences.

States have identified poverty as a significant obstacle for families involved with the child welfare system. In response, state and county agencies have developed strategies to provide concrete support to families, help to lift them out of poverty, and in doing so, reduce the risk of entry into the child welfare system. The goal is to provide a child with a clear pathway toward happiness and prosperity. To achieve this, tightening family ties is a forward-thinking response if successful compared to tearing a support system apart.

As a child, witnessing substance misuse and experiencing physical abuse affects mental health in various ways. The previous factors are fundamental causes of systemic poverty that decrease mental health. Poverty in childhood is associated with lower school achievement; worse cognitive, behavioral, and attention-related outcomes; higher rates of delinquency, depressive and anxiety disorders; and higher rates of almost every psychiatric disorder in adulthood. Access to informal support can reduce parenting stress and enhance parents' mental state, reducing the risk of maltreatment. 

Despite the impending cognitive decline, any individual, regardless of socioeconomic status, can seek help, whether formal or informal. Seeking help or learning personal coping skills is one of many baseline solutions that can lead an impoverished individual to a more positive mindset and action-oriented approach toward their seemingly inescapable situation.

Additionally, certain aspects of socioeconomic status are often invoked as underlying causes of inequality because the marked differences between African Americans and Whites result from America's long racial segregation and discrimination past. Understanding Black struggles throughout poverty parallels the experiences White individuals face when breaking the cycle. Historically, there are the lowest poverty rates for Black Americans. Black individuals in the United States face a wide range of institutional obstacles that make earning a steady, livable income and the possibility of escaping poverty difficult.

Over the years, public opinion regarding poverty inequalities has presented significant challenges. As a result, there is a pressing need to adopt a more sophisticated analysis of public perceptions of poverty. Public opinion research suggests that low-income Americans, while knowledgeable about poverty and interested in change, need more information about structural causes and solutions and doubt their influence on society. Providing that information and opportunities for civic engagement should be priorities. While news reports generally ascribe poverty to systemic causes, they do so through brief references to general trends such as the "weak economy." Few stories explain the root causes in detail, and the forces behind the impact of poverty receive practically no attention.

As for poverty itself, journalists typically define it by official government income thresholds in their respective countries. Social scientists use a more expansive definition that situates one's standard of living within a broader set of human and other rights. Once the unique poverty-focused perspectives are established, various sources emphasize one or two external components and tie them back to the central cause-effect relationship between poverty and family structure. 

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