5 Maddening Things Poor People Can't Get Out From Under
No one who's not an asshole politician ever said that being poor is easy, but it turns out that poverty screws you in all sorts of ways you'd never expect. It's so bad, in fact, that studies have found the psychological effects of long-term poverty to be more profound than those of living through a goddamn war.
That's because being poor comes with an unexpected plethora of bizarre side effects, like an intricate chain of dominoes that fall to form a giant dick-shaped torpedo aimed straight at your mental and physical well-being. For instance ...
Being Poor Makes You Grow Old Faster
Though "I'm too old for this shit" is a phrase uttered by approximately every hourly minimum wage employee in history, a recent study of Detroit residents revealed that this phenomenon is less figurative than anyone could have imagined. Poverty physically ages your body at the cellular level. Either that, or Detroit exists in some kind of temporal vortex (which, admittedly, would be a more fun explanation for why it looks like an unused set from Jean-Claude Van Damme's Cyborg).
The only difference: Nobody from Detroit would ever say "I LIKE THIS WORLD!"
To get to how this is even possible, we first need to start with a little biology lesson. See, your chromosomes are capped by telomeres, which have been compared to the aglets (plastic tips) on shoelaces. They keep all the strands of your DNA together and prevent the whole shebang from unraveling like ... well, like a shoelace without an aglet. Every time your cells divide, these telomeres lose a bit of their length, until eventually your DNA is a frayed maniac and you die of old age.
They're like tiny Homer Simpsons, sleeping through meltdown after meltdown until all of Springfield burns.
But time isn't the only thing that can weaken your telomeres. Telomere shrinkage has also been linked to chronic stress -- such as, say, the kind that comes from constantly worrying about how you're going to pay your rent and feed your kid this month. When researchers plopped a bunch of poor and lower-middle-class Detroiters under a microscope, they found them to be universally telomere-challenged, providing direct evidence that the "stress of living in extreme poverty causes early onset of age-related diseases" such as heart disease. Being poor is apparently a lot like drinking from the false grail.
The same face you make getting an ATM overdraft fee.
Oddly, the study found that telomere length varies greatly for people of different races and ethnicities. For instance, the difference between poor and non-poor whites was so startling that we're not sure how poor whites managed to let the researchers prod them with needles without keeling over from heart failure. The difference between poor and non-poor blacks was less pronounced, while poor residents of Mexican descent actually had longer telomeres than their non-poor counterparts. Researchers believe that this may be because most of those subjects were new to the country, and therefore had not yet had their spirits broken into a bloody pulp by Detroit.
Shitty Food Makes You (And Your Unborn Children) More Susceptible To Disease
It probably doesn't come as a surprise that a salty, sugary, fat-filled diet of highly processed groceries and fast food is really bad for your health. Unfortunately, those terrible foods are also terribly cheap, so low-income families are often forced to rely on purchasing what is essentially flavorful garbage if they want to keep everyone fed. However, it turns out that eating shitty food doesn't affect just you, but also the future generations of your family.
It may sound like something straight out of a germaphobe's nightmares, but your insides play host to billions upon billions of tiny organisms. These organisms live in harmony with you, helping you break down your food in exchange for a small share of it. They're basically tiny stockbrokers, investing in your lunch for a small percentage and giving you noxious farts in lieu of a receipt. Furthermore, recent research suggests that not only do these organisms aid with digestion, but also that having (or lacking) the proper mix of these little critters can determine whether you're fat or thin.
Life's been hard for Tim's family ever since he started his "broccoli, beans, and boiled cabbage" diet.
It turns out that eating meals overloaded with salt and sugar effectively murders the shit out of the productive microscopic citizens living in your gut, leaving behind only those that thrive on unhealthy slop. Thus begins a vicious cycle in which your gut loses the benefit of the microbes that help keep you at a reasonable weight, while you continue to eat more and more awful food, which keeps the microbes from coming back and makes you gain weight. And it doesn't take long to kick off that chain reaction -- changes in the chemistry of your gut can take place after a mere three days of eating quarter-pounders, Doritos, and fish sticks.
You say "Double Stuf Oreos"; they say "Nagasaki Part II."
The real surprise, though, is that napalming the shit out of your body's friendly neighborhood bacteria also wreaks havoc on your ability to fend off disease, and you can pass this weakened immunity on to your children.
So to fix all this, poor people should avoid eating crappy food, right? It's not that simple. Besides the fact that people tend to eat what they can afford and what they have time to prepare, there's the issue that fast food peddlers deliberately target the poor in their marketing campaigns (more specifically, they target poor children). Add to that the fact that residents of poorer neighborhoods are more likely to live near fast food restaurants (and that the simple act of living near one while poor makes you more likely to be fat), and poor people are pretty much predestined to bomb their guts with bacteria-murderin' foods.
It's like Russian Roulette, except their colons are the barrels, and they're all loaded.
And it gets worse ...
Poverty Shrinks Kids' Brains
According to new research from Princeton University, poverty perpetuates itself in a never-ending whirlwind of imprudent decisions and ketchup sandwiches (those two categories are not mutually exclusive). The classic view of poverty is that it is both caused and maintained by financial ineptitude and living in dead-end environments. But this research offers a further determining factor that is way more insidious: Living in poverty predisposes individuals to making mistakes by shrinking their brains.
"I only know how to do subtraction, not addition."
How does this happen? When you live in poverty, your mind is so preoccupied with the pressing concerns that it causes (you know, the same money stress that drives the premature aging mentioned above) that logic becomes woolly, resulting in a measurable drop in IQ, among other things. Researchers administered a series of cognition and logic tests to low-income individuals, and found that those worrying about money while completing the assessment tested a full 13 IQ points lower -- equivalent to the effects of missing an entire night's sleep, being a long-time alcoholic, or watching a single hour of programming on TLC.
Make that a half hour.
Cornell University researchers have also shown that poverty causes adverse neurological changes in children, hamstringing memory, language, and analytical thinking skills. Children who had grown up poor scored 20 percent lower on short-term memory assessments, and blew away the never-poor children when tested for stress hormones like cortisol. Researchers believe that these constantly elevated levels of stress hormones lead to a cumulative reduction in brain power. This isn't just an inner-city phenomenon, as children tempered by rural poverty displayed similar learning impediments.
"E: All of the fuck this world."
But low-income living does more than sap a brain of its vitality; it literally shrinks your squishy thought meat. Children born into poverty have measurably less neurological acreage than those with parents who can buy exotic animals with cash. These effects are evident in kids as young as one month of age, and persist through adulthood. The good news is that this brain shrinkage might be reversible: A study in Mexico revealed that "supplementing poor families' income improved their children's cognitive and language skills within 18 months." Money can't buy happiness, but a little extra can prevent your brain from shrinking.
Being Poor Makes You More Charitable And Generous (But You'll Never Escape Poverty By Being Charitable And Generous)
In California, drivers are required by law to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks (this is probably also the case in most other states of the union, but we're going to focus on California for now). In a recent study, it was found that the vast majority of California drivers had no trouble obeying this law. The notable exceptions were the drivers of luxury cars, who were as likely to transform pedestrians into a fine red mist as they were to let them cross the street unmolested.
"Eh, she was probably the grandma everyone hated, anyway."
Similar studies have shown that rich folks are more likely to "help themselves to candy meant for children, cheat in a game of chance ... lie during negotiations and endorse unethical behavior, including stealing at work." It would seem that wealth turns people into monsters who literally steal candy from children. But what if you lived in relative poverty for a substantial portion of your life before coming into contact with great goo-gobs of money? Like if a kind-hearted rec center employee just trying to make ends meet suddenly won the lottery?
Spoiler: They ended up right back at the rec center after the lottery ruined their life.
A joint study by Harvard and the University of Utah attempted to answer that question. Researchers found that priming college students (who are nothing if not thunderously broke) simply to think about money made them more likely to lie or make unethical choices -- even if there was no implication that their skulduggery and deceit would result in financial gain. In another study, conducted at the University of Minnesota, researchers found that priming participants to think about money made them less cooperative, less helpful to others, and exceptionally less likely to donate to charity. It seems that once the green stuff comes into play, everyone's morals go straight out the goddamned window.
Researchers think that human beings might have a limited pool of altruism and empathy, which we tap into only when we have reason to worry about our own needs. If your biggest concern is which Bentley to take out of the garage, you don't have the inclination or the capacity to feel compassion for other people.
"Not this one. A Subway worker breathed near it last week. It must be fumigated."
It would seem that basic humanity comes down to a choice between being a poor but all-around decent human being, or being a wealthy but monstrous bag of dicks. All things considered, we're betting the nation's poor would jump at the chance to at least be middle-class marginal assholes if it meant their children wouldn't be born with shrunken brains and immune deficiencies. But that brings us to what might be the biggest kick in the nuts of all ...
For Boys, Moving Out Of Poverty Makes Things Worse
Obviously, living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood isn't exactly the healthiest situation for a youngster's psyche. The great thing about kids, however, is they have the ability to snap back from damn near anything, right? Not quite -- boys who move out of poverty are actually at an increased risk of mental and behavioral problems.
Back in the 1990s, the U.S. government kicked off a program called Moving To Opportunity, which allowed single mothers to move their kids out of the ghetto, in order to examine the result this had on their still-malleable child-brains. The study followed 3,689 children from over 4,600 public housing families. Of those families, 1,430 received vouchers to move to low-poverty neighborhoods (this was the "Willy Wonka golden ticket" group), 1,081 received geographically unrestricted vouchers (the "Willy Wonka extra shiny golden ticket" group), and 1,178 received nothing (the "control" or "enjoy continuing to live in poverty" group).
"It's OK, we've still got love and family and ... eh ... shit."
At the beginning of the intervention, the children ranged in age from newborn to eight years. Ten to 15 years later, after having settled into their new homes far removed from Skid Row (the band as well as the slums), the now-angsty teenagers were interviewed and screened for mental disease. The girls who had moved away from their poor neighborhoods responded swimmingly, displaying lower rates of depression and behavioral problems. This is what the researchers expected. However, the boys in the study showed an increase in both categories. Uprooting them from their impoverished neighborhoods had exacerbated symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now, this is a story all about how / My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute / Just sit right there
I'll tell you how I was stuck in therapy for several years
Researchers aren't sure why this happened, but theorize that it might be related to sex-based differences in socialization skills that make girls more socially adaptable. While the girls were being accepted by their new peers, the boys were treated as a threat by those already ensconced in the new community, and were therefore more prone to fighting or other behavioral problems. That's right -- by childhood, males are so well-trained in class-based dickishness that not even the many advantages of a better home, school, and general environment could overcome it. So the question might not be whether or not we can solve poverty, but will we allow it to be solved.