Poverty that persists across generations is known as generational poverty. One generation following another passes down poverty, which is not curable. The cycle of poverty is a long-term pattern of poverty in which everything begins again after it’s completed, persisting in a whole family.
While there are several causes of generational poverty, one of the most prevalent is a lack of resources.
In the absence of financial resources, parents are unable to live independently and raise their families. Having parents who are their children’s closest role models can lead to disadvantageous influences: poor eating habits, lack of confidence, and lack of optimism.
As a result of this behavior, people are trapped in a cycle of insecure thinking and struggle to achieve short-term goals resulting from what is termed “the scarcity mindset,” — a mental shift resulting from the perception of scarce resources.
An environment with insufficient resources may be the cause of the shortage. For example, those who live in underserved areas may face obstacles to earning income.
In short, a lack of resources can cause underdeveloped learning generationally. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how this affects learning and how to help solve this problem.
Poverty at Home
“Compared with well-off children, poor children are disproportionately exposed to adverse social and physical environments,” writes Eric Jensen in Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It. “Low-income neighborhoods are likely to have lower-quality social, municipal, and local services.”
Poor neighborhoods are less likely to have green space and are more hazardous due to their traffic volume, crime rate, and playground safety. Children living in poverty are often exposed to contaminated air and drink impure water. In addition to being crowded, noisy, and physically deteriorated, their homes pose a greater safety risk.
Additionally, “children living in poverty tend to spend less time finding out about the world around them and more time struggling to survive within it,” adds Jensen. “Poor children have fewer and less-supportive networks than their more affluent counterparts do; live in neighborhoods that are lower in social capital; and, as adolescents, are more likely to rely on peers than on adults for social and emotional support.”
The opportunities for cognitive enrichment are also fewer for children from low-SES families.
There are fewer books in their homes, they visit the library less often, and they watch more television than their middle-income counterparts. Moreover, these children live in unstable, chaotic, and single-parent households. As such, this “strains resources and correlates directly with poor school attendance, lower grades, and lower chances of attending college.”
Uncertainty, disruption, and change can be particularly harmful to young children. “Developing children need reliable caregivers who offer high predictability, or their brains will typically develop adverse adaptive responses,” he states. “Chronic socioeconomic deprivation can create environments that undermine the development of self and the capacity for self-determination and self-efficacy.”
“Common issues in low-income families include depression, chemical dependence, and hectic work schedules—all factors that interfere with the healthy attachments that foster children’s self-esteem, sense of mastery of their environment, and optimistic attitudes,” Jenson continues. “Instead, poor children often feel isolated and unloved, feelings that kick off a downward spiral of unhappy life events, including poor academic performance, behavioral problems, dropping out of school, and drug abuse.”
A consequence of these events is that college is rarely an option, and poverty persists.
Poverty’s Influence on Learning
As with people of any socioeconomic class, people in poverty are diverse. As with other groups, they have a diversity of values, beliefs, dispositions, experiences, backgrounds, and opportunities.
Because of poverty, intervening factors have an effect on outcomes for people as well. Specifically, a student’s health and well-being, their literacy and linguistic development, accessibility to physical and material resources, and level of mobility are among these factors.
Health and well-being.
It is important to remember that these factors are interrelated and that one factor can compound another. A child’s birth weight, premature births, and childhood diseases can be affected by poor housing, inadequate medical care, and poor nutrition. These factors interfere with a child’s development physically and cognitively. The ability of students to benefit from school is affected by such factors.
Additionally, children who live in daily economic hardship can suffer from negative mental health, self-efficacy, and self-image problems, as well as a lack of motivation to succeed in school.
Language and literacy development.
The literacy and language development of children who live in poverty often lags behind that of their more affluent peers. Susan Neuman states in Educating the Other America that research has shown that “children who are poor hear a smaller number of words with more limited syntactic complexity and fewer conversation-eliciting questions, making it difficult for them to quickly acquire new words and to discriminate among words”
Literature also shows that low-income students have less access to reading material than their more affluent counterparts.
As a result of poverty, families may not be able to provide their children with other resources as well. Their homes may lack adequate space to create a quiet or private environment conducive to study, and they may lack access to high-quality daycare or before-or after-school care. In some cases, out-of-class projects cannot be completed because students do not own a computer or cannot afford the resources needed.
The inability to provide stable housing is another type of constraint placed on families by poverty. As their parents look for work or deal with other issues that require them to move, students often move from one location to another. The frequent moving of students has a negative impact on their academic and social performance.
Personal finance education is lacking.
“The lack of personal finance education in this country has proven to be devastating,” Michelle Fox writes for CNBC.
Increasingly, people live paycheck to paycheck, incur credit card and student loan debt, and do not save for retirement. This has left some people unable to buy a home or feed their families.
As a result of a lack of financial planning, millions of Americans struggle with their money every day.
“Various industry research found that 2 in 3 families lack any type of emergency savings; 78% of adults live paycheck to paycheck, and 3 in 5 adults do not maintain a monthly budget,” adds Fox.
In addition, only half of the questions on the TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index in 2021 were answered correctly by U.S. adults.
In order to enhance financial literacy in kids, financial literacy advocates suggest starting in high school.
“However, what many researchers have found is that far too few students — particularly those from low-income backgrounds — receive any personal finance education during high school,” she states. The reality is that they have to make big financial decisions about student loans and budget for living expenses after graduation.
“If we are going to make sure everyone in this country has food to eat and a roof over their heads, we have to teach them how to manage their money,” said Nan Morrison, president and CEO of the Council for Economic Education (CEE) and a member of the CNBC Invest in You Financial Wellness Council.
A finance course is required by only five states, according to the CEE. Missouri also requires a stand-alone course in personal finance, according to Next Gen Personal Finance, which develops free courses for high schools. A personal finance course is mandatory in fifteen states and optional in five others.
How to Break the Generational Poverty Cycle
There are a number of resources we can provide, both on the societal and home fronts, to assist in breaking the cycle of generational poverty.
Generational Wealth Isn’t Guaranteed to Last Forever
It is not always true that wealth passes down via smart investment and money management skills, notes Sam DiSalvo for GoBankingRates. In fact, it’s estimated that 70 percent of wealthy families lose their wealth by the next generation, and 90 percent lose their wealth by the third generation.
Maintaining substantial wealth requires financial savvy, something that not all rich parents transmit to their children. 64% of parents admit they haven’t talked about their wealth with their children at all (or very little). It is possible that the inheritance will be spent quickly without any recovery if the children do not receive that education and if the inheritance goes to multiple children.
Therefore, if you’re a parent, these tips can help your kids improve their saving skills.
Start with the basics sooner than later.
Seven is the age when money habits and attitudes begin to form. So, lessons should start before then.
“Your children should be introduced to coins and cash when they are old enough to know they shouldn’t eat pennies,” recommends Due founder and CEO John Rampton. “Describe how money works and why it is important to save money.” It is better to show them how money works rather than to tell them how it works. The best way to show them how you use cash is to show them how you use it.
Talk about money.
According to a survey by T. Rowe Price in 2021, 41% of parents avoid discussing money with their children. Additionally, many people are embarrassed to discuss money.
Maintaining a dialogue with kids is key to teaching them how to save. Talking about money should be a part of your daily routine or scheduled as a weekly check-in.
Develop budgeting skills.
“As you know, a budget helps create financial stability by tracking expenses and following a plan,” says John. “And teaching your kids how to budget is a crucial life skill they need to develop sooner than later.”
“Use jars to teach your children basic budgeting concepts by spending, saving, giving, and sharing,” he suggests. “You can show younger children how Elmo from ‘Sesame Street’ saves in those three jars.”
Include them in the financial process.
During your shopping trip, ask your children to assist you in saving money. You might ask them to find the right items and compare the prices with coupons from the grocery store, for example.
Reflect on the Big Picture
“In my role, I often reflect on the big picture. Meaning, what are the things that need to take place before we can even consider the actual step of getting out of poverty,” said Chardae Caine, Youth Workforce Development fellow at the University of Michigan. A person’s ability to exit the system can be impacted by factors such as housing, food, transportation, child care, and more. “Past traumas and trauma-informed care is also a major consideration in the needs of Detroit residents.”
The key to breaking the cycle and providing what’s needed is to start with the basics. The physiological and safety needs must be met before one can proceed with the (undefined) steps that follow, as in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
In order to assist students who are suffering from poverty, educational institutions can serve as a source of support and understanding.
“At all levels of education, someone who can assist with those basic needs would be beneficial. Although it is often thought that education is the one and only way out of poverty, basic needs either hinder students from continuing on the education pathway or stop them before they reach graduation because the barriers take precedence over paying next semester’s tuition,” she said. “If students have to choose between supporting their families by getting a job or signing up for classes, family — the only thing they have known their whole life – will more than likely come first. Ensuring that the basic needs of students are being met is a necessity.”
Increase the Number of Educational Opportunities
Intergenerational poverty can be reduced by enabling greater social mobility through education. According to the American Enterprise Institute, college leads to a 10% increase in annual income over individuals who did not attend college.
As part of education and schooling, children are also taught to become independent, as well as encouraged to form important connections to the rest of the world. By making these connections, impoverished individuals would have access to more resources and opportunities for social advancement.
In addition, there are programs are available for free and accessible to all children. Children from low-income families can receive free childhood interventions, and scholarships specifically designed for impoverished students are available. Some examples include the Horatio Alger Scholarship, Hagan Scholarship, and the Greenhouse Scholars Program.
“People often shy away from asking for assistance from the government when suddenly faced with a financial crisis,” Deanna Ritchie writes in a previous Due article. “However, this is a mistake.” Avoid letting your ego stand between you and the help you desperately need.
Furthermore, we can access government assistance because we have paid for it. Let’s take income tax as an example. Your taxes have also provided assistance to others, like education, healthcare, and social security benefits. After all, this is the foundation of how our government functions.
So long as you qualify, the same system you’ve contributed to previously can assist you.
Do you qualify for any government assistance programs? Visit www.Benefits.gov to find out. Using this website, you can access resources related to food, housing, healthcare, and childcare.
“Just note that you’re more likely to qualify for these programs if your income is lower,” adds Deanna. “Also, if you believe that financial troubles are approaching, you must begin as soon as possible.” The reason? There can be a long wait for approval.
Some of the government programs worth exploring include:
- Unemployment insurance. Depending on your state, you may qualify if you lost your job without your fault or are unable to work. You can find a helpful guide on how to do this in the New York Times.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP provides nutrition assistance to people who are temporarily struggling due to job loss, illness, or other setbacks.
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD assists people who are homeless or in need of affordable housing.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). As a means of overcoming financial obstacles, states use TANF, or welfare. A family that qualifies for TANF can receive housing, food, child care, and job training assistance.
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). If you need help paying for heating, cooling, or utility bills, LIHEAP might be able to help.
- The Affordable Connectivity Program. The FCC supports this program to ensure that households are able to afford broadband to use for work, school, healthcare, and other purposes. Eligible households can receive a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service, while households on qualifying tribal lands can receive a discount of up to $75 per month. A one-time discount of up to $100 can also be obtained by households contributing more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase of a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers.
“Also offered by the government are grants, scholarships, and loans for students who qualify,” states Deanna. “For small business owners, you may be able to secure a grant via Grants.gov. There’s also SCORE which connects you with a mentor to provide you guidance.”
Free Financial Resources
There are also several government agencies that provide free resources to help you manage your finances.
- In the IRS’ Interactive Tax Assistant program, you can find answers to many common tax questions and issues.
- Beginners can find a practical guide to investment management at the SEC. In addition, it contains excellent primers for avoiding fraud and mutual funds.
- In addition, you can use the Social Security Administration’s resources to figure out how much you can expect to receive from Social Security or SSDI benefits; Medicare; and other benefits.
- MyMoney.gov, a site from the Financial Literacy and Education Commission, covers a wide range of financial topics for beginners.
- Adults from all backgrounds and circumstances can gain valuable financial education from the FDIC’s MoneySmart website.
- “You can also head over to your local library and check out books or buy them used, such as, You’re So Money: Live Rich, Even When You’re Not by Farnoosh Torabi or The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack,” suggests Deanna.
- Blogs like Due offer expert advice on everything from debt management to retirement planning.
- You can also connect with others in similar circumstances through financial forums like Saving Advice Forum.
- Not much of a reader? Also available are personal finance podcasts like Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn and DIY Money.
- If you have the time, you can also enroll in a financial course. Personal finance classes at Khan Academy and Duke University’s Coursera course on Behavioral Finance are 100% free.
- You can also try free online budgeting tools. Track spending, automating savings, and reaching your financial goals can all be achieved using these tools. It is possible to find better utility rates, cancel unwanted expenses, or even make intelligent suggestions with some of these tools.
The Bottom Line
Financial assistance is not only available to the wealthy. From personal finance advice to money management tips, there are plenty of free (or almost free) resources available to you and your family.
1. What is generational poverty?
The term generational poverty refers to families that have experienced poverty for two generations or more. People can suffer from it on all levels: physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally.
2. Why does generational poverty persist?
The primary reason generational poverty persists is due to psychological factors, despite financial issues being the external force. Combined with hopelessness, a scarcity mindset, and toxic stress, it brings about a feeling of helplessness.
Urban Ventures explains that “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.”
Financial issues are typically the root of generational poverty’s psychological problems. In order to make ends meet, many parents work multiple jobs. As a result of the lack of money, there is a “scarcity mindset.” As a result of their focus on survival for the next few days or weeks, people trapped in poverty struggle to envision the future.
Adults and children alike are not thinking about college, careers, or higher education in this mindset. Nevertheless, they often feel incapable of achieving their dreams, and their goal in life is just merely to get by.
Money worries can also cause toxic stress that affects a person’s learning, behavior, and health. The effects last a lifetime for children.
3. How can we stop generational poverty?
This is a complex issue where there isn’t just one answer.
One suggestion is to pair higher education and workforce programs with child care and early education. By supporting both parents and children’s development, this approach helps end intergenerational poverty by improving parents’ and children’s life opportunities.
4. How does education affect poverty?
A person can not only survive but thrive with a good education, which means access to jobs, resources, and skills. It is for these reasons that education is globally recognized as a solution to poverty. A strong education can help break the poverty cycle for individuals, families, and entire communities.
Quality education promotes social, emotional, cognitive, and communication skills in children. Additionally, they gain knowledge and skills, often at a higher level than non-students. With these skills, they can earn higher incomes and achieve success.
In low-income countries, UNESCO estimates that around 171 million people would escape extreme poverty if all students had only basic literacy skills. Global poverty could be reduced by more than half if all adults completed secondary education. Quality education is, therefore, one of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 set by the United Nations.