New Orleans Dr. Perri Klaus wrote a piece recently for a Times’ column that should not be ignored essentially making the case that poverty is not simply a social, political, and economic circumstance, but a disease with terrible consequences, lifelong impacts, and potentially multi-generational effects.
At one level he talks about an increasingly prevalent diagnosis in our hardening class structure called “toxic stress” which can damage a young child’s body and brain by “too much exposure to so-called stress hormones, like cortisol and norepinephrine.” This stress attract without prevention or mediation may “reset the neurological and hormonal systems, permanently affecting children’s brains and even, we are learning, their genes.”
Sound serious enough? There’s no 12-step program for this situation. It’s permanent and life altering, as Dr. Klaus and many others point out leading to “define many children’s life trajectories in the harshest terms: poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and health problems from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse and mental illness.”
This diagnosis to me seems to strongly say: pay me now or pay me later.
Klaus, trying to avoid the “Debbie downer” tag, argued that the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Tony Blair looked at their gaping wealth disparity and made a goal of reducing poverty there by half in 10 years, and up until 2010 largely succeeded cutting the absolute poverty rate from 26.1% of children in 1999 to 10.6% in 2010. In America now 25% of children under 5 live below the federal poverty guidelines, and we are moving the opposite direction by not expanding early childhood education and defunding Head Start.
You get the message. We can beat this disease, but likely every disease we have to be willing to prevent its onset and then take the cure. Both take money and willpower. One we have and the other we seem to be sadly lacking. Meanwhile the disease and destruction of poverty rages on, killing millions, and leaving despair and destruction wherever the epidemic is allowed to fester and rage.