Poverty Impairs Education


“There is a heavy emotional and psychological component to poverty.”

–Fran Walfish, psychotherapist

New research finds the strain of being poor can harm the brain.  Fewer opportunities for stimulation and growth are just one of the many unseen effects of growing up in poverty, and mounting evidence shows that the strain of constant poverty can impair judgment and even change the brain itself.

“Even if you’re born gifted, poverty interferes with the functionality of a high IQ, and that can affect the course of our life,” Los Angeles psychotherapist Fran Walfish, concludes.

Research shows the brains of poor people start out the same as everyone else’s, but then they can develop more slowly over early childhood because of the strain of poverty.  Poverty seems to be “suppressing” the IQs of the poor, says Eric Turkheimer a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, who has researched the role people’s genes played on IQ tests.

Essentially, children with high IQs who were living in severe poverty were not able to express those traits.  “If someone has the capacity to be a financial wizard but is raised in a harsh environment, that exceptional DNA may not sine through,” reports Turkheimer.

“Certain environmental factors need to be in place for genetic potential to shine, though it’s hard to say which ones–prenatal care, nutrition, better schools.  All those things add up, he said, and poverty is an “accumulation of negative effects.”

Research is also showing negative effects on the brain can be reversed but sooner is better and younger brains are more resilient.  One in five children in the U.S. now lives in poverty, a total of 16 million children, up from 13 million in 2009.

We must improve the living conditions an educational opportunities for low-income children. Horizonte, Salt Lake City School District’s alternative high school and adult education provider, is part of the solution.