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Securing Atlanta's Future Thought Leadership

The Effects of Generational Poverty

Blythe Keeler Robinson, President and CEO, Sheltering Arms

As an early childhood education provider, more than half of Sheltering Arms families we serve live at or below the federal poverty level. One thing we know is that children who grow up in low-income households face many challenges that others don’t. They are more likely to experience instability in the home, the neighborhood they live in may be under-resourced, their parents may not be able to invest in their education, and the overall stress of trying to make ends meet may impair parental decisions. The results have lasting effects on children and make it difficult for them to escape poverty when they become adults. In Georgia, 20 percent of the children here live in poverty; and research has shown the negative impact on a child’s brain, including cognitive development and their ability to learn. 

The National Center for Children in Poverty found that children who grow up in poor families are much more likely to be poor in early adulthood, and African-Americans are more likely than whites to be poor in early and middle adulthood. According to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI), single, female heads of household with children are more likely to live in generational poverty.

Let’s look at Carletta Johnson, a Sheltering Arms parent who was recently included in an NBC Nightly News story on generational poverty. The eldest of six children living with her single mother, Carletta spent much of her childhood helping to raise her siblings while in school. She became a young mother herself, but through a job corps program, she obtained her high school diploma and started working. Eventually, she began college, majoring in early childhood education, but soon found that being a mother, an employee and a student was more than she could manage at the time. She left school to focus on providing for her family. The next year, the youngest of her four sons was enrolled in Sheltering Arms, where she learned about employment opportunities, as part of our Two-Generation Approach. Carletta became a part-time pre-school teacher’s assistant, and through the organization’s professional development program, went on to earn her Child Development Associate Credential and Technical College Certificate. She later pursued an opportunity as a full-time teacher. Through a Sheltering Arms parent workshop, she learned about the Habitat for Humanity Program, was able to pay off her student loans and credit card debt, and purchased her first home. 

Carletta’s story is an exception. As a woman and a person of color, she has multiple challenges against her. According to GBPI, women earn less than men with similar education credentials. Poverty rates for single mothers with a high school diploma is 40 percent, double that for single fathers at 20 percent. Women, particularly Blacks and Latinos, are also more likely to face pay and hiring discrimination. Lastly, poverty rates are 10 percentage points higher for single parents like Carletta with children younger than age 6 in the household, compared to single parents with older children. 

While reflecting on her journey to stop the generational poverty cycle, Carletta says, “My mother didn’t push me. I had to push myself.  I didn’t know how to get out [of poverty], but I knew I wanted more for myself and my children.”



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