A Macro View of the Biological Effects of Poverty

 A Macro View of the Biological Effects of Poverty – What This Means for Boulder

Written by Isabel McDevitt

In the last month two different friends shared with me two unrelated studies that struck me. Both explore the effects of being poor and the real, measurable psychological and behavioral effects of economic status. Both outline the undeniable snowball effect of how being poor can put a person in a hamster wheel of compounding disadvantage while both also explore the impact having wealth has on the human psyche contributing to unbridled, often entitled, confidence. Neither study is judgmental or preachy, rather both are thought provoking and instructional for the work we do at Bridge House – particularly Ready to Work.

Not only do these pieces discount the simplicity of notion that homeless people can “just go get a job” without support or that they can become self-sufficient overnight, but the researchers in these pieces illustrate the risk we face as a society with that attitude. Both call for systemic solutions – such as the kinds of interventions offered through programs like Ready to Work – and call for attitudinal shifts in our society to recognize the dangerous effect of poverty not just on those that are poor but all of us.

Please take a moment to have a look.

In “The Science of Scarcity”, economists explore the problem of scarcity – not having enough of a basic need such food, money, shelter – and the biological impact of such deprivation on decision making. It often seems people in poverty have a severe and inexplicable lack of judgment and this article outlines the science behind the counter productive choices, even permanently debilitating decisions, made by those in poverty so we, as a society, can create interventions to give people better options.

In UC Berkeley professor Paul Piff’s Ted Talk: Does Money Make You Mean?, a rigged game of Monopoly which matches “poor” players and “rich” players demonstrates the behavioral manifestations of inequity. His experiment prompts an exploration of the significant risks of inequity not just to those who have little but to whole communities where income disparities exist.

Both of these works support strategies we are following in our work to combat homelessness in Boulder.

Ready to Work gives homeless men and women a boost. Through the holistic program model we take away scarcity so people can get a foothold. We ensure stability to give our trainees a chance to “get back to zero” to take care of debt, to break the cycle of evitable poor choices forced by crippling circumstances. By providing the job, the housing, and the support, Ready to Work gives homeless individuals a shot to build some traction – a resume, a rental history, sobriety – as well as a platform from which to bounce back financially. Savings and credit repair are core elements of our program so that when ready to reenter the housing market, our trainees can have a shot.

We cannot claim to end poverty or solve problems of income disparity in our community but we are the hand up that makes progress possible.

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