Voices of Native Youth

The Cycle of Poverty and its effect on Native Youth

The cycle of poverty can't be changed like settings on your washing machine. Three things we all need to understand about those who live in poverty. #poverty #resiliance #nativeamerican #nativeyouth

The Cycle of Poverty Creates Vulnerability

When I was a little girl, my family was not rich and we lived in a one-bedroom house—you could say we lived impoverished. Also, we had no running water, which made it hard for everyone in my family to stay clean. The poor environment we lived in made us weak and strong at the same time, but mostly it made us vulnerable.

For example, we were vulnerable to being absent from school, sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, and making friends. This affects the mind, body, and identity, which makes it harder for youth to break the cycle of poverty.

What You Might not Know About the Cycle of Poverty

People don’t know that poverty causes depression and psychological problems. One reason poverty causes depression is we get bullied for it. I went to a public school and no one knew my past, but once they did, they would avoid me. I was only a fourth grader, but this led me to feeling depressed.

Recent research helps to unravel how growing up poor causes psychological problems. A study by Margaret Sheridan of Romanian children who lived in orphanages but eventually found quality foster homes says, “Increasingly we are finding evidence that exposure to childhood adversity has a negative effect on brain development. The implications are wide ranging, not just for institutionalized children but also for children exposed to abuse, abandonment, violence during war, extreme poverty and other adversities.”

Another study shows that the psychological effects of childhood poverty are likely connected to smaller brain volumes in areas associated with emotion processing and memory. From the scans, scientist found that the distress of poverty physically changes a child’s brain. In other words, poverty causes mental hardships.

The Physical Dangers of Poverty

The cycle of poverty can't be changed like settings on your washing machine. Three things we all need to understand about those who live in poverty. #poverty #resiliance #nativeamerican #nativeyouth

Poverty also brings danger to our physical health. Children and teens living in poorer communities live with an increased risk for a wide range of physical health problems. For instance, a poor child may have low birth weight and lack of access to healthy food. This combination can lead to obesity and other chronic health conditions. The environment of poor neighborhoods discourages outdoor activities and poor children will watch more television, thus leading to an increased risk of falling prey to marketing by obesity-promoting products. All of this can lead to increased violence, suffering or death. 

According to The Food Research and Action Center, “many low-income people still are uninsured and lack access to basic health care.” Most families who live in poverty are not able to pay medical bills. If you live in a poor environment, you’re likely to get a disease or get sick frequently. This can also lead to suffering or death. We can lose our physical health, something we need to thrive, because we live in poverty. 

Lost Family Relationships

Poverty forces us to lose interest in our own family and have an identity crisis. Some people are ashamed of their families because people equate poverty with failure. For example, someone I knew wanted to stay away from his family as much as possible because they had a way of bringing him down. He wanted a way to help his family, so he helped his parents with jobs and his siblings with education. He found a way help his family without allowing them to bring him down.

Eric Jensen, in an online article, states, “Unfortunately, in impoverished families there tends to be a higher prevalence of such adverse factors as teen motherhood, depression, and inadequate health care, all of which lead to decreased sensitivity toward the infant (van Ijzendoorn et al., 2004) and, later, poor school performance and behavior on the child’s part.” Poverty can cause youth to feel insignificant in their family, and this leads to other problems. If you can’t find who you are, then you can’t find the career that’s right for you and you may drop out of school.

The cycle of poverty can't be changed like the settings on your washing machine. #poverty #nativeamerican Click To Tweet

Poverty has a hard effect on youth. It causes mental hardship. It also takes away our physical health. Poverty confuses who we are. Clearly, living in poverty as a child would most likely make youth live in poverty as an adult and this continues the cycle of poverty. 

Deidra Nez is a Navajo. She is currently a junior in high school. She’s learning how to play the violin and she’s also passionate about music. In college she wants to major in music and dentistry. She doesn’t like grapes nor being on stage.

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