Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Growing up Poor

While my growing up had it’s tough times - because of the impact of alcoholism on my family – in lots of ways it was pretty incredible.

We grew up relatively poor. There were lots of times when we barely got by financially. On the farm we were always in debt because my father was such a poor manager. When my parents divorced we were always on the edge because my mother was supporting us on her salary alone.

This is not going to be one of those – “We were poor, but we were happy” stories.

But I remember the opportunities of my youth with a great deal of fondness. I fished, rode horses and raised calves, drove a team, baled hay, built tiny twig rafts for my army men and floated them in the creek for hours on end. I ate paw paws, scrapple, frog legs, and fresh beef and pork.

Before it was illegal I rode everywhere in the back of an open pickup truck all summer long. I went ‘coon and fox hunting – some of the first times I remember staying up past midnight were around a campfire listening to the dogs.

When I moved into town I joined the Boy Scouts and taught my peers the skills that I had already utilized for years like tying knots, building fires and following tracks. I loved to canoe and taught my friends the j-stroke.

The artist side of me took off in school and I acted in school plays and sang tenor, baritone and then finally bass as my voice changed. I was President of my high school Forensic (Speech) Society and won some awards for extemporaneous speaking.

I write this to point out that while we were poor, being poor was never allowed to be an excuse for not trying new experiences, working hard at school or having fun. Those same attributes that served me well growing up have served me well as an adult.

But I was an odd duck. I was able to overcome my family’s alcoholism and economic status and succeed by the standards that the world judges success. But there are millions of kids that are not as fortunate as I was. They are the victims of their circumstances and it is not their fault. They are the real poor.

From Larry James’ blog:

Among 33 industrialized nations examined in a new report, the United States tied for next to last with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies born. Only Latvia had higher mortality figures, with 6 deaths per 1,000 births.

Industrialized nations with a lower infant mortality rate include Japan, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Australia, Canada, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania and the United Kingdom, to name just a few of those ahead of the U. S.

While U. S. infant mortality rate for all races is 5 deaths per 1,000 births, for non-Hispanic blacks, the rate is 9.3 deaths per 1,000, another example of a disparity in health and wellness outcomes when factored by race.

The U. S. has the benefit of more neonatologists and operates more neonatal intensive care beds per person than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, but presents a higher mortality rate among is newborns than any of these nations.

Researchers noted that the United States is more racially diverse and has a greater degree of economic disparity than many other developed countries, making it more challenging to provide culturally appropriate health care for all of its citizens.

Apparently, factors defined by race and economic disparity (read "poverty" here) mean more babies are dying. Pre-natal care, community strength, social capital and low birth weights all factor into this disturbing national outcome.

For the complete report that focuses most of its attention on the severe crisis in developing nations, go to:
http://www.savethechildren.org/publications/SOWM_2006_final.pdf

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