In the 60 years since I (TBB) first started practicing pediatrics, medical science has made many advances possible. Today’s doctors have access to new vaccines and surgical procedures that we could only dream of when I started out.
Yet science has also revealed that raising healthy children requires more than the latest medical treatments. When children grow up in poverty — as over one out of every six in the United States do (Wimer, Fox, Garfinkel, Kaushal, and Waldfogel, 2013) — the experience can have dire consequences.
Babies born poor face lifelong consequences for health, mental health, and success in school and in life. Asthma, obesity, diabetes, and learning disabilities are just some of the challenges that children who grow up poor are more likely to face (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2015). And they are far more likely to remain poor as adults (see for instance, Greenstone, Looney, Patashnik, and Yu, 2013). This means that their babies, too, are at higher risk of being born — and dying — poor.
The challenges that children living in poverty face are profound and unfair. Americans of every stripe know that babies don’t choose the circumstances they are born into. And they don’t choose the lifelong consequences of childhood poverty either.
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