When most people think of extreme poverty, they think of generational poverty: the parents were poor, their kids are now poor and their grandkids kids will grow up poor. Like genetics, families in this situation seem to pass down poverty from one generation to the next. These families tend to be stuck in the cycle of poverty which means they and their children will continue to live in poverty until an external influence can help them escape.
What Makes Generational Poverty Persist?
Generational poverty only requires that a family lives in poverty for at least two generations. Generational poverty persist mostly because of internal psychological factors, although financial issues are the external force that create these psychological barriers. It’s a combination of hopelessness, scarcity mindset and toxic stress.
According to Urban Ventures, “Hopelessness is the key factor in creating the cycle—one generation to the next. Without hope and the belief that life can be better, the motivation and energy needed to break the cycle are very low.”
Almost all of the psychological issues with generational poverty are centered around finances. Many parents work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. This lack of a fundamental resource - money - creates a “scarcity mindset”. The people trapped in poverty struggle to think of the future because they are so focused on surviving for the next few days or weeks. In this mindset, neither adult nor child are thinking about college, careers or higher achievements. Even if they are, they often feel that these dreams are unattainable to them, and their lot in life is to just try to survive.
Living in constant worry about money can also cause toxic stress which can damage the learning, behavior and health of people living with it. For children, the effects span their lifespan.
What Can We Do To End Generational Poverty?
One of the most effective ways to break generational poverty seems to be education – helping these families find hope in their future and providing them with the path to reach those new dreams. Ending generational poverty requires many different programs. All of our agencies provide various services that help end generational poverty from Head Start to vocational training to housing assistance to food assistance and education. Basic courses like financial literacy and soft skills training make a huge difference.
By providing education, training, financial and nutritional support and a little human kindness, we can break the cycle of generational poverty.
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