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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tag: poverty

Tackling Childhood Trauma

“‘This is not a poverty problem. This is not a race problem. This is a function of human biology.'”

In an NPR interview with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who gave a TED Talk on Adverse Childhood Experiences in 2014, Burke Harris dove deeper into what childhood trauma does to a young child’s body and how she recommends healing its negative effects.

In her new bookThe Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, Burke Harris describes the ways in which childhood trauma can change one’s physical health for the remainder of their life.

“It can tip a child’s developmental trajectory and affect physiology. It can trigger chronic inflammation and hormonal changes that can last a lifetime. It can alter the way DNA is read and how cells replicate, and it can dramatically increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes — even Alzheimer’s.”

In the NPR interview, Burke Harris compared toxic stress created from childhood trauma to an interaction with a deadly bear. First, an individual feels a sense of adrenaline, and then his/her brain regulates executive functioning on how to logically handle the situation. One’s immune system is also affected because it is preparing for a potentially dangerous situation where harm to one’s body may occur.

She notes that if this reaction happens once in awhile, maybe if you ran into a bear, then it is okay. However, what is happening with adverse childhood experiences is that this happens way too frequently and is permanently affecting their health.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris giving her Ted Talk. CC Image Courtesy of the Nadine Burke Harris website.

In relation to children who grew up in poverty, toxic stress can be seen more frequently.

“‘What we see is that poverty itself may have a very significant impact on, first, kids being exposed to adversity, and second, the probability that the kids who are exposed will go on to develop toxic stress, because of the impact of the stress of poverty on their caregiver,'” Burke Harris explained.

In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance reflected on the stresses he faced as a child growing up in a poor household and how his family has been affected by these same toxic patterns as well.

“For many kids, the first impulse is escape, but people who lurch toward the exit rarely choose the right door. This is how my aunt found herself married at sixteen to an abusive husband. It’s how my mom, the salutatorian of her high school class, had both a baby and divorce, but not a single college credit under her belt before her teenage years were over… For me, understanding my past and knowing that I wasn’t doomed gave me the hope and fortitude to deal with the emotions of my youth” (229).

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Burke Harris also stressed the importance of health clinics diagnosing adverse childhood experiences and effectively treating them. She created the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco. Her goal is that pediatricians are doing routine screenings for these adverse experiences since early intervention makes a drastic difference.

In a school environment, some of the clearest signs of children experiencing toxic stress are difficulties with impulse control and with self-regulation, and trouble with attention. The symptoms are very similar to those of ADHD. However, it is difficult for educators to tackle the problem without enough resources to use for students in need.

She concluded the interview with suggestions on how to tackle such a monstrous and complex problem.

“‘…Schools you need help! Doctors offices, you’re part of the solution! You know, if you’re in early childhood, you’re part of the solution. If you’re in juvenile justice, you’re part of the solution. We all need to be part of the solution. If we each take off our little piece, it’s nuts how far we’ll be able to go, together as a society, in terms of solving this problem.'”

A Potential Solution for Multi-generational Poverty

Multi-generational poverty has proven to be a tough cycle to break. In a recent Washington Post article, it follows a Maryland County and their effort to end this multi-generational poverty. Maryland lawmakers proposed a new approach: integrate services such as early childhood development, temporary cash assistance and mental health programming.

This new approach looks at the needs of a family as a whole, rather than viewing children and parents separately. Legislators are calling this a two-generational approach.

“This is a process for working toward benefiting whole families,” Sarah Haight, the associate director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, said Tuesday.

A preview of the interactive map. Image Courtesy of the New York Times website.

The issue of multi-generational poverty was a significant theme in this year’s Go Big Read selection, Hillbilly Elegy. Vance chronicles the struggles of growing up in a poor neighborhood in Appalachia, and how it is difficult to move out of this cycle.

“And it is in Greater Appalachia where the fortunes of working-class whites seem to be dimmest. From low social mobility to poverty to divorce and drug addiction, my home is a hub of misery” (4).

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Like Vance’s neighborhood, many of the families in Maryland grow up in poverty. “Recent census data shows that the number of Maryland children living in poverty would fill 2,434 school buses,” explained Nicholette Smith-Bligen, an executive director of family investment within the Maryland Department of Human Services. “That’s saying to us that this program (the two-generation approach) is critical.”

Allegany County, in a rural area of Western Maryland, is where 20 percent of the state’s population lives in poverty. The county has begun to view their local system with this new two-generation approach. Many departments in the county have collaborated with each other to create a Head Start center, GED classes and financial education programs.

This opportunity allows families to have a plan with services to use as an outlet.

Multi-generational poverty is a monstrous problem in the United States, and it has proven to be difficult to diminish. However, if this new two-generation approach proves to be continuously successful, other states may follow in Maryland’s footsteps.

Hillbilly Elegy Panelist Keynote Event Recap

On Monday night, Professors Kathy Cramer, Katherine Magnuson, and Aleksandra Zgierska took to the stage to discuss political, social, and health issues present in Hillbilly Elegy. 

Professor Kathy Cramer, speaking first, noted that this book has raised questions for its possible connection to the 2016 presidential election. However, Cramer hinted towards approaching that perspective with caution.

“It’s become a little bit of a myth that the white working class was responsible for the election of Trump,” Cramer said. “We need to be careful about jumping from this book to assumptions about Donald Trump supporters.”

Professor Kathy Cramer. Image Courtesy of the UW-Madison Faculty website.

Professor Katherine Magnuson followed Cramer’s remarks with a discussion on poverty, especially between generations in rural areas. A map was displayed on her presentation that illustrated how difficult it was for families in different areas to overcome inter-generational poverty.

She mentioned that of those born into the bottom 20 percent of wealth within the United States, only a mere 4 percent make it to the top percentage of wealthy Americans within their lifetime- a concerning statistic.

A preview of the interactive map. Image Courtesy of the New York Times website.

Last to speak about a very highly anticipated topic was Professor Aleksandra Zgierska. She tackled the stigma around drug addiction and the impact that opioids have on Americans today.

She worries that with the increasing numbers of overdoses increasing so rapidly, the problem is going to have to hit an all time low before it starts to get better. However, she still remains hopeful in breaking the stigma around addiction and getting individuals the help that they need.

“There’s a lot we need to do to break the stigma of addiction, to break the misconceptions that exist out there, so that we can help people reach out for help and get the help they need,” Zgierska said.

The event closed with a Q&A session between panelists and audience members. Although brief, questions included those of successful immigration into the US, tips for combating opioid addiction, and if placing “blame” for issues within the political system is a beneficial tactic.

A huge thank you to the panelists who participated in the event and everyone who joined to discuss Hillbilly Elegy. The Go Big Read team enjoyed seeing so many people expressing their interest in Hillbilly Elegy and wanting to discuss these topics with the Madison community.

The recorded video will be posted to the Go Big Read website shortly.

Until next year!

 

Childhood Trauma Shown to Shorten Lifespan

“Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today,” explained Dr. Robert Block, former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In a Ted Talk given by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on the effects of childhood trauma throughout one’s lifetime, she revealed that childhood trauma increases the risk for seven of the ten leading causes of death in the USA.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris giving her Ted Talk. CC Image Courtesy of the Nadine Burke Harris website.

For those who are exposed to high levels of childhood trauma, life expectancy is 20 years shorter. They are also three times more likely to develop heart disease and lung cancer.

Dr. Burke Harris then summarized what she has been studying: adverse childhood experiences, referred to as ACEs, and their effect on health throughout one’s lifetime. ACEs include:

  • physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • physical or emotional neglect
  • parental mental illness
  • substance dependence
  • incarceration
  • parental separation or divorce
  • domestic violence

For every ACE that applied to the participant, they would get a point on their ACE score.

According to the study, 67% of the population has experienced at least one ACE.

The study then revealed that the higher one’s ACE score, the worse their physical and mental health outcomes tend to be.

It has been shown that growing up in lower income households often presents more severe levels of trauma for children. Unfortunately, this is a common dilemma for many. One out of every five children is born into poverty, and the cycle is difficult to break.

As seen with our 2017 Go Big Read bookHillbilly Elegy, author J.D. Vance grew up in a low-income household, facing adversities, which impacted his life as an adult.

Author J.D. Vance pictured with his grandmother. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Not only is it more likely for children in poor families to posses a high ACEs score, but it has also been noted that being raised in a low income household disturbs children’s brain development and academic performance.

In his memoir, Vance explained that when his mother moved him away from the comfort of his grandparents, he was unable to sleep, had depressed feelings, and his grades plummeted.

According to an article on the effect of childhood poverty on development and educational outcomes, children in chronically poor families have “lower cognitive and academic performance” and higher levels of behavior problems than children who are not poor.

It is painfully clear that childhood trauma and the environment that the child matures in can have a lifetime effect on their health and development. Although there have been large numbers of studies on these effects, finding a solution is not as straightforward.

However, Dr. Burke Harris remains hopeful.

“This is treatable. This is beatable… We are the movement.”

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

The Cycle of Poverty in Appalachia Continues

“Today, less privileged white Americans are considered to be in crisis.”

According to “The Original Underclass,” an article published in The Atlantic in September 2016, the number of out-of-wedlock births and unemployed males have increased dramatically. Along with reports of high rates of opiate addiction and rising mortality rates, working class white people in America seem to be in trouble.

In the 1950s, the white working class prospered from performing physical labor post-World War II. Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance explains that his grandparents moved from Kentucky to Ohio in pursuit of more opportunities. They escaped the poor conditions of Kentucky and raised a middle class family in Ohio, like many families did at the time.

This opportunity for so many following the war would not last forever.

The hope of achieving permanent upward mobility was not as easy as it seemed to be in previous years. The areas that people moved to after World War II, like the Rust Belt, stopped showing great opportunity. J.D. Vance tells the story of the diminishing idea of the American Dream within his memoir.

The Rust Belt region. CC Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Working class Americans in the Appalachia region, where J.D. Vance spent time growing up, are especially struggling. Appalachian residents now find it very hard to break their cycle of ongoing poverty.

“I am a hill person. So is much of America’s white working class,” Vance writes. “And we hill people aren’t doing very well.”

Although Vance managed to escape this detrimental cycle with the help of his grandmother, it is extremely hard for most to find resources to succeed while living in a poor environment.

“Many people in my community began to believe that the modern American meritocracy was not built for them,” Vance explained.

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

A New York Times article from 2015 reviewed a study by Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren which exposed a brutal truth about upward mobility: children who grow up in poor neighborhoods instead of moving to areas with more opportunities are more likely to remain low-income. These effects can last for several generations.

Overall, the study concluded that what matters in terms of upward mobility is not just the quality of one’s neighborhood, but also the number of childhood years he/she is exposed to it. The earlier they move out of poor conditions, the more likely they are to succeed.

For many who are forced to live in these sinking areas, the idea of the American Dream is diminishing. The Appalachia region consists of some of the poorest areas in the United States.

For Vance, fixing these deeply rooted issues is not going to be fixed by the government alone.

“These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else,” Vance contends. “We created them, and only we can fix them.”

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance is Chosen as the 2017-18 Go Big Read Book

Today, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Chancellor, Rebecca Blank, announced that the forthcoming 2017-2018 Go Big Read book is to be Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

“a deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures”

In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance provides his personal reflection on upward mobility in America seen through the lens of a white, working-class family in the Midwest. The ninth book in the history of the Go Big Read program, this year’s selection offers “a deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures.” The author is acutely aware of the many struggles “hillbilly” populations face—having himself descended from Kentucky “hill people” and grown up in a declining Ohio steel town. (jdvance.com).

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance was recently chosen as the 2017-2018 Go Big Read book.

As the official UW-Madison press release states, “Many have credited the book with providing understanding of the lives of those struggling with economic decline;” however, many critics have questioned whether the text presents an overly simplistic view of “poverty and personal responsibility” (news.wisc.edu).

J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy.

Yet, as Chancellor Blank shares, the nuances presented in the text echo the Go Big Read program’s “history of choosing books with challenging and timely topics” that  “generate a lively conversation about a set of important issues, about which people can agree or disagree” (news.wisc.edu).

We are excited to see what discussions and critical classroom engagement this book will bring to campus next year! For more information on the text and its author, please visit the news.wisc.edu.

Morgan Olsen
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Housing Policies Related to Poverty and Segregation in Milwaukee

Wisconsin Public Radio recently published an article called “How Milwaukee’s Economic Social Disparities Correspond with Gun Violence: Measures of Poverty, Education, Housing Align with City’s Segregation” by Scott Gordon. The article highlights how education, poverty, housing, and urban policies have shaped the neighborhoods in Milwaukee, particularly poor black neighborhoods.

The article includes interactive maps for the zip codes of Milwaukee that show these connections. There are four maps focused on homicides, race and education, mental health professional shortage, and poverty and rent. The poverty and rent map shows, by zip code, the percent of the population living below the poverty level and the percent of renters who spend more than 35% of their income on rent.

To read the article click here.

Evicted Book Trailer

Below is the book trailer for the new Go Big Read Book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. A book trailer is a video advertisement for a book which employs techniques similar to those of movie trailers to promote books and encourage readers.

This book trailer gives an overview of what Desmond discusses in Evicted

Watch the book trailer below.

For more information about the book, visit the book’s website by clicking here.

Go Big Read Selects ‘Evicted’ for 2016-17

It’s the story of eight Milwaukee families faced with losing their homes. It’s also a powerful analysis of a little-known epidemic affecting people across the country living in poverty.

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” the best-selling book by alumnus Matthew Desmond, is the 2016-17 selection for Go Big Read, UW–Madison’s common-reading program.

“This book provides us an opportunity to talk about a little-understood facet of poverty and the profound implications it has for American families, particularly in communities of color,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank says. “I’m proud that an alum has brought this issue to the forefront and I look forward to conversations in our community about this important subject.”

Desmond received his doctorate from UW–Madison in 2010. He is an associate professor of sociology and social studies at Harvard University and an affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the UW. In 2015, he received a MacArthur “genius” grant.

In his book, he writes that in the early 20th century, evictions in the U.S. were somewhat rare and popularly contested. Now they have become a frequent occurrence for low-income families, especially those headed by black women.

Milwaukee, a city of roughly 105,000 renter households, sees roughly 16,000 adults and children evicted in an average year, Desmond’s research shows. This is equivalent to 16 eviction cases a day.

“Providing stable housing and lowering evictions is a human capital investment analogous to education or job training — one that has the potential to decrease poverty and homelessness and stabilize families, schools and neighborhoods,” Desmond says.

“‘Evicted’ is astonishing — a masterpiece of writing and research that fills a tremendous gap in our understanding of poverty,” says previous Go Big Read author Rebecca Skloot. “Beautiful, harrowing, and deeply human, ‘Evicted’ is a must read for anyone who cares about social justice in this country.”

Go Big Read has a history of choosing timely topics that are part of the national discussion. This past year’s Go Big Read book, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, highlights racial inequality and the need to reform America’s justice system. That success offers a bridge to a campus dialogue on Desmond’s central question: “Do we believe that the right to a decent home is part of what it means to be American?”

Initially, “immigration and community” had been chosen as the theme for the 2016-17 academic year, but “Evicted,” with its new insights on strengthening communities and its relevance within and beyond Wisconsin, made it a timely selection, Blank says.

Planning is underway for how students, faculty and staff will use the book in classrooms and for special events. Desmond plans to visit campus and give a talk. Copies of the book will be given to first-year students at the Chancellor’s Convocation for New Students, and to students using the book in their classes. UW–Madison instructors interested in using the book can request a review copy.

The Go Big Read program is an initiative of the Office of the Chancellor.