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Raleigh News and Observer, April 22, 2008: Poverty has lasting consequences

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Kristin Collins, Staff Writer

Living in poverty can leave permanent scars on a child’s brain, a North Carolina advocacy group says in a report released today. “The experience of living in poverty actually makes changes in the child’s brain so that they are not as capable,” said Mandy Ableidinger, who wrote the report for Action for Children North Carolina, which researches children’s issues. “It’s a shocking thing that people need to be aware of.”

Ableidinger said she created the report by putting together research done in the past decade with North Carolina poverty statistics. Here are a few of her findings:

HOW MANY CHILDREN LIVE IN POVERTY IN NORTH CAROLINA?

One-fifth of North Carolina’s children live below the federal poverty line, which is $21,200 for a family of four. After nearly a decade of decline, the state’s child poverty rate began to climb in 2000. That year, the rate exceeded the national average and has stayed above it ever since.

Thirty-seven percent of black children in North Carolina live in poverty, compared with 10 percent of white children.

WHY IS CHILD POVERTY RISING IN NORTH CAROLINA?

Ableidinger attributes the rise to the loss of stable manufacturing jobs in the state. As textile and furniture plants have closed, many factory workers moved to lower-paying service and retail jobs with few benefits, the report says. The state’s median wage, adjusted for inflation, remained flat from from 2000 through 2006, and the wages of the lowest-paid workers fell, the report says.

HOW DOES POVERTY AFFECT A CHILD’S BRAIN?

Young brains develop through interaction with other people. But children in impoverished families don’t get the interaction they need to build their brains, the report says. Constant stress about their family’s finances also can elevate the level of the hormone cortisol in a child’s body as part of the “fight or flight” mechanism, the report says. Over time, the hormone can damage their bodies, making it more difficult to learn and leaving them vulnerable to depression and stress-related diseases such as high blood pressure.

HOW DOES POVERTY AFFECT A CHILD’S ACHIEVEMENT?

Poor children are less successful in school and more likely than the general population to have chronic health problems, the report says. They are also likely to remain in poverty throughout their lifetimes.

kristin.collins@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4881

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