In the current issue of Brain in the News, researchers have once again linked poverty and neural development. I am adding race to that equation. Here’s what they found. When kids grow up in poverty, they “tend to have as much as 10 percent less gray matter” in areas of the brain linked to academic skills. White matter in the brain sends signals, while gray matter involves memory, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self-control, among other vital functions. The researchers suggested that 20% of the achievement gap in test scores could be explained by diminished gray matter. They urge us to think of poverty as a public health problem, not just a social problem.
But socially, we aren’t doing well, either. According to a Pew report, about 38% of black kids and 43% of Hispanic kids live in poverty. Poor black kids now outnumber poor white kids by 4.2 million to 4.1 million. Combined, those are staggering numbers. And then add 5.4 million poor Hispanic kids. Also, consider that there are three times as many white kids in America as black. Although children only make up 28% of our population, 38% of poor blacks are children.
The researchers advocate early intervention (and food, I imagine!) to change the course of lives diminished by poverty and racism. In the face of overwhelmingly yucky news, what can we do? As my pastor says, “Do for one what you would do for all.” Mentor a kid, get involved in local shelters, volunteer in community kitchens, donate food and money to local food drives. Just imagine what would happen if we all did for one….