[Hpn] Can Poverty Kill A Child?
Harmony Foster Kieding
Sat, 3 Feb 2001 14:00:45 -0800
(note from Harmony: since poverty all too often leads to homelessness)
Can Poverty Kill A Child?
January 7, 2001
I haven't been writing here for some time because I have been dealing with the
death of a grandchild in our family. The child was only 15 months old and was
killed in an auto accident on a road that has claimed several other lives and
should have been fixed long ago. In the 48 hours following the accident that
killed the baby, there were two more non-fatal accidents on exactly the same
The child was my step-grandson, the son of my wife's son, so I took the seven
hour drive with Jeanie and my step-daughter, Raven, to meet in these times of
grief with a side of the family I knew very little about. The family turned
out to be a close knit one made up of relatives and friends. The one outstanding
characteristic was that they are all poor. The cost of living in the area is
quite high and even though several members of the family work, they do not have
enough money. To compensate for this, the family sticks together and each one
uses their talents and contacts to do for other family members what they are
unable to do for themselves. But I digress.
When we arrived, the baby had been pronounced dead and the mother was still
in a coma with critical injuries. In addition, the police department, in their
own politically motivated wisdom, prepared charges against the mother of the
child- felony child endangerment and manslaughter. They had uncovered the fact
that the mom had taken off from work to pick up the baby at the daycare to take
him to the doctor to examine a cut on his head he got while playing at the center.
Maybe she had been driving a bit too fast. They also saw that the tires were
bald. Perhaps this contributed to the accident in which case the mom would have
to go to prison while her remaining child would go to foster care.
The family as a group discussed how to bury the child, pay for the mother's
medical bills, feed each other during this time of grief and possibly pay for
a lawyer to defend the mother. The family was extremely bitter about this last
part. They felt that even if she had been at fault, hadn't the woman been punished
enough? Would anyone benefit by the state stepping in and putting her in prison?
It was during this discussion that it hit me: poverty kills.
The mother worked full time and paid her taxes and childcare. She did not have
enough money for a better car. Her rent payment was two months overdue. She
did not have enough money for new tires. Her insurance had been canceled due
to missed payments. If the child had not been on Medical, there would have been
no doctor to have taken the child to. The baby's father was not employed or
living with the mother and the children. The mother had a cleaning job that
paid minimum wage or perhaps a bit above. She could not afford many of the things
that some of us take for granted.
According to government statistics, in 1996 there were 35.5 million people in
the United States living at or below the poverty level. That means they make
less than $13,000 a year for a family of four. About 7.4 million were classified
as the working poor. I am not sure if this includes the homeless. There are
certainly plenty of them and they are very difficult to count with any accuracy.
The point is that we have too many people in this country living on the edge.
The cost of vital services has gone up so high that if there is a disaster in
any of these families, they will be unable to afford to pay for essential services
and goods to help them through the emergency.
That is not all. A good part of life is being able to prevent accidents and
disasters before they start. How many of us are driving on bald tires because
we have to drive to get to work or to buy groceries and don't have the money?
How many of us didn't get our furnace checked this year when we know it is old
and could be dangerous but we just don't have the money? How many of us cannot
afford good nutritious food so we buy what is on sale and take the risk of disease
from improper nutrition? How many of us are not covered under any health plan
at all and as a result cannot pay for the health checkups that could discover
something wrong with us and save our lives? How many of us are wearing shoes
with no tread on the bottom that could cause us to fall and be hurt or even
killed because that pair of new shoes is just too much for us to be able to
afford? How many ways can a person be hurt or die just because they cannot afford
to buy the goods or services that would keep them safe?
Yes, poverty can kill. Even though our economy has done so well for the last
ten years, we have a couple of million people who can now buy a small country
or and island for themselves. These people have been enriched by the economy
while we have close to ten million of us who are working and cannot afford all
the necessary things we need to keep our families safe. How close are you to
this group? You are closer than you think. If you are just under the median
income, all you need is one disaster and you will be financially strapped for
a long time. Imagine having to pay funeral expenses for your child. Most of
us do not have insurance for this and would have to take out a loan. What if
your spouse is suddenly seriously ill needing expensive tests and treatments?
How will you pay for it if you are one of the uninsured? You have car insurance,
but do you have uninsured driver's insurance? What would happen if your car
was totaled by someone who was uninsured? Could you pay the resulting medical
bills and replace your car out of your pocket?
In the case of my grandson, poverty contributed but did not kill. What killed
him was the lack of public funding to fix a road that had already taken several
other lives. His mother drove around a corner and the car hydroplaned across
water standing on the road. She was not speeding. Even if her tires had good
tread, the accident would still have happened. Mercifully, the police investigation
saw it much the same way. Of course they would have had a tough time convicting
someone of having contributed to killing their baby in an accident when there
were two more accidents on the same corner within 48 hours.
What is the point of this essay? The point is that we have done a lot to help
some of us become very wealthy and join the top three percent of people in this
country who own 80% of this country's wealth. We have not done so well with
those less fortunate. We have accused them of being lazy, mentally unstable,
drug abusers and so on. I am sure some of this is true. This does not take away
our responsibility as a society to take care of the least of us first if for
no other reason than that poverty is lethal.
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