Living in Poverty

Where Do We Go From Here? Rochester's Poverty Simulation
Why poverty has nothing to do with money
We can end poverty, but this is why we haven't
Solving Poverty Without a Big Wallet
The end of extreme poverty
Poverty, Politics and Profit (full film) | FRONTLINE
How much do you need
to live out of poverty
in each state?


Poverty in the United States - Wikipedia
January is National Poverty in America Awareness Month
Poverty Awareness Month 2020 (11 page PFD)
Poverty & Suicide

Higher Poverty Tied to Increased Youth Suicide Risk
Poverty associated with suicide risk in children and adolescents
Suicide Rates in Children, Teens Increase With Poverty
Poverty Could Drive Up Youth Suicide Risk
Economic status may be a warning sign for youth suicide
Youth Suicides, County-Level Poverty Go Hand in Hand
Suicide and poverty in low-income and middle-income countries: a systematic review
Association between Food Insecurity and Suicide Risk
Poverty may have a greater effect on suicide rates than do unemployment or foreclosures
Poverty and suicide research in low- and middle-income countries: systematic mapping of literature published in English and a proposed research agenda

How much do you need to live out of poverty in each state? All 50 States. - 4/21/21 Video
2020 Poverty Projections: Initial US Policy Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Economic Effects Is Projected to Blunt the Rise in Annual Poverty - (13 page PDF)
U.S. Poverty Quiz
Addressing poverty can heal an increasingly divided country
10 Ways to Address Poverty
The Population of Poverty USA
After incarceration
Talk with your kids about poverty
US wealth gap between young and old is widest ever
U.S. Hunger
Poverty Awareness
Poverty Facts
Poverty in American - The Economist
Income and Poverty in the United States: 2018 - US Census
Poverty Awareness Month - Partnership with Native Americans
Injured Iraq Vets Come Home to Poverty
Veterans and Poverty: Gender and age matter


January is National Poverty in America Awareness Month

Hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, disabilities, restricted access to participation in the democratic process. These are just some of the many manifestations of poverty. More than 40 million Americans live in poverty, but we can eradicate poverty. As Nelson Mandela said, "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the action of human beings."

While poverty is a complex social issue, you can make a significant difference through workplace giving. Don't have a program? Each of the nonprofits listed below, vetted by America's Charities, are dedicated to helping the impoverished through programs and services concentrated on addressing the root sources of poverty and working to create sound policy frameworks locally and nationally that will help lift our fellow neighbors, family members, and friends out of poverty so they can live independent, sustainable lives and contribute to the community.

In recognition of National Poverty in America Awareness Month, which takes place in January each year, join us by supporting and raising awareness about these nonprofits who are making a difference in the fight to stamp out poverty for good.

Provide food and support through community coordination:

Feeding America
Food for Others, Inc.
Meals on Wheels America
Share Our Strength (No Kid Hungry)

Provide food, shelter, counseling and support:

Feed the Children
Miriam's Kitchen
Salvation Army National Capital Area

Support for individuals and families struggling with poverty:

A Wider Circle
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, Inc.
Christian Appalachian Project
Lions Club International Foundation
Lorton Community Action Center
Operation Warm

The Shepherd's Table

Provide affordable housing and support:

Good Shepherd Housing
Habitat for Humanity of DC, Inc.
Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, Inc.
Rebuilding Together Alexandria
Rebuilding Together Montgomery County

Fight for Economic Justice and Equality:

Southern Poverty Law Center

Provide Access to Education and Support Disadvantaged Youth:

'I Have A Dream' Foundation®
Latino Youth Arts Education Fund - (LULAC National Educational Service Centers, Inc.)
Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF)
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Scholarship Fund - Point Foundation
Generation Hope
100 Black Men of America
The Child & Family Network Centers (CFNC)
The Sesame Street Yellow Feather Fund
Teach for America
PHILLIPS Programs for Children and Families

Talk with your kids about poverty

Poverty is a complex issue that can stem from a variety of reasons that are too difficult for young children to understand. But even though issues surrounding hunger and homelessness are complicated, it’s important to talk to kids about poverty.

If you are a parent who doesn’t often worry about putting food on the table or having a warm place for your child to go to sleep, wrapping your arms around this conversation may be quite difficult.

But without a clear explanation, kids may not understand why some kids get free lunch at school or why there’s a homeless person asking for money. And they may make inaccurate assumptions about people living below the poverty line.

Why You Should Talk About Poverty

At some point, your child will notice that some people don’t have as much money as others, and he’s likely to have some questions about it.

It’s estimated that one in five children in the United States lives in poverty. Many of those children have working parents, but low wages and unstable work leave them living below the poverty line.

There’s a good chance some of your child’s classmates struggle with issues like food insecurity and homelessness.

You might be tempted to say to your child, “Eat your broccoli. There are starving children in other parts of the world who would love to eat that." But talking about people who live on another continent may be too far removed from your child's world for him to grasp. There are plenty of people struggling with poverty much closer to home. Talking about real-life situations in your community may help him gain a better understanding of what poverty is.

Children living in poverty may experience lifelong consequences. Poverty affects families in the following ways:

  • Educational problems – Children living in poverty have more trouble learning and they are less likely to further their education.
  • Behavioral problems – Poverty affects a child’s social and emotional development. Children growing up in poverty are more likely to exhibit behavioral problems.
  • Physical health problems – Child poverty is linked to higher rates of asthma, obesity, language development problems, and an increased risk of injury.
  • Mental health problems – The toxic stress associated with poverty increases the risk of several psychiatric disorders.
  • Reduced overall well-being – Studies show poverty is the biggest threat to children’s well-being and it can have lifelong consequences.

Holding conversations about poverty can be an opportunity to educate your child as well as a time to foster compassion for others. When your child understands a little more about why some people live differently, he may have more empathy for people who experience poverty.

Look for Opportunities to Address the Subject

Rather than bring up the subject of poverty out of the blue, look for opportunities to bring it up naturally. Then, you can talk about it more concretely.

When there’s a Thanksgiving food drive at school, talk to your child about why you’re donating canned goods. Or, when there’s a gift drive over the holidays, explain that some families may not have enough money to buy presents.

Be Prepared for Tough Questions

At some point, your child will notice that his peers or people in the community are living in poverty. Be prepared for questions such as:

  • Why does Anna wear the same dress to school every day?
  • How come that woman is asking people for money?
  • Why isn’t that man wearing any shoes?
  • Why does Zack say he gets free lunch at school?

When your child asks questions, it’s a sign he’s ready for more information. It's important to give him age appropriate answers.

Give Simple Explanations to Elementary School Children

Kids don’t understand money or economics. A commercial about child hunger may spur innocent questions to like, “Why don’t their parents go to the grocery store and buy them more food?”

Between the ages of 5 and 8, kids are ready to learn simple explanations about poverty. Try saying something like, “Some people aren’t able to earn enough money to buy food or a home to live in.”

At this age, you don’t need to give lengthy explanations about the factors that may prevent someone from earning a livable wage. Conversations about disabilities, substance abuse, and a poor economy can wait until the tween or teen years.

Talk to Tweens and Teens About the Underlying Causes

Tweens and teens have the ability to begin understanding some of the reasons why poverty exists. Talk about the factors that contribute to poverty, such as:

  • The income gap between rich and poor people
  • Lack of jobs that pay adequate wages
  • Lack of education
  • High costs of healthcare and childcare
  • Substance abuse and mental illness
  • Disabilities
  • Divorce
  • Generational poverty

In addition to talking about the causes of poverty, discuss the effects. Provide a simple explanation of the government services and the resources put into place to help people, but also talk about how difficult it can be for people to get out of poverty.

Pay Attention to the Messages You Send

The things you do, as well as the things you don’t do, will send your child messages about people living in poverty. For example, if you walk past a panhandler without making eye contact, your child may assume homeless people are beneath you, so it’s important to explain why you don’t give strangers on the street cash.

Say something like, “I don’t give people money because I’m not sure how they’ll spend it. But I might buy them some food sometimes.” Or, explain that you donate money to programs that help homeless people have food to eat and shelter to stay in.

It’s also important to avoid sending a message that implies hard work always prevents poverty. If you say things like, “I work hard so we can live in a nice house,” your child may conclude people living in poverty must be lazy.

Get Your Child Involved in Helping

Donating cash to a charity may not teach your child much about helping others. But, involving him first-hand in helping people in need could help him gain a better understanding of how he can address poverty.

Get your child involved in donating some of his toys or unused clothing to others. Ask him to choose which items to give and talk about how it can help other children whose parents may not be able to buy toys or clothing. Bring your child with you to the store to buy food for a food drive. Ask him to pick out canned or dry goods that you could give to families who may not be able to afford food.

When children see that they can take steps to make a difference, they may feel inspired to perform more acts of kindness in the future.

Discuss the Safeguards You Have in Place

Talking about poverty may cause your child to become a little anxious. He may worry that you will run out of food or that you might be homeless someday. So it’s important to talk about any safeguards you might have in place.

If you have a friend or relative who might help you if you were down on your luck, say something like, “We could always live with Grandma if we didn’t have our own home." Or explain that there are government programs in place that help people who can't afford food.

Of course, as an adult, you know that even the best safeguards are not foolproof. You may never have to confront a turn in luck that leaves your family in great need, but we all face that possibility.

The best thing you can do for your kids is assure them
that you’re always there to love and protect them.

Remind them that regardless of where your circumstances take you, you always will. Sharing anything beyond that, especially with young children, may be too much for them to handle.

Poverty Awareness



In 2018, 16.2% of all children (11.9 million) lived in poverty. That means nearly 1 in 6 children live in poverty. People under the age of 18 represented 22.6% of the total population in 2018 and 31.1% of the people in poverty.
Source: The U.S. Census Bureau: Income and Poverty in the United States 2018; U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2018-2023 Annual Social and Economic Supplements


Though the official census data gives seniors a 2018 poverty rate of only 9.23%, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which accounts for expenses such as the rising costs of health care, raises the senior poverty rate to 13.6%.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2019 Annual Social and Economic Supplement


According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in 2018, 552,830 people in the United States were homeless and 36,361 of the group were children. 88,640 individuals or 16% of the homeless population are chronically homeless, which means they often have a disability and have experienced homelessness for a year or longer.
Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness

Food Insecurity

An estimated 11.1% of U.S. households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2018, meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.
Source: Household Food Security in the United States in 2018, ERR-270, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service

10 Ways to Address Poverty

1. Educate yourself about poverty in your community and in the United States.

2. Identify an issue (such as affordable housing, integrated health, nutrition, disaster operations) you are passionate about and can take action on.

3. Familiarize yourself with legislation and policy proposals that impact low-income families and individuals.

4. Reach out to those living in poverty in your community by participating in parish and community activities and service.

5. Identify existing resources or groups working on your issue in your community.

6. Pray for those whose lives are impacted by poverty. Download Prayer

7. Share what you have learned with others in your community and encourage them to take action too. Download Social Media Toolkit

8. Let your voice be heard by involving yourself in advocacy activities at the local, state and national levels.

9. Learn about volunteering with Catholic Charities in your community. Find a Catholic Charities agency near you

10. Support Catholic Charities’ efforts. Donate Now

After incarceration

It is nearly impossible for men and women to find work.

Two-thirds of all people currently incarcerated in the United States are there for non-violent offenses. Once people serve their sentences and satisfy all the conditions of their release, they still encounter significant obstacles, like finding a job and safe housing. The St. Vincent de Paul Reentry Program brings together formerly incarcerated men and women with Vincentian volunteers to address critical issues facing returning citizens.

Their Impact: Returning citizens develop skills and secure employment.

In five different states—Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Ohio, Florida, and Louisiana—the St. Vincent de Paul Reentry Program works to address critical issues of poverty and justice by advocating for systemic change. There are two parallel strategies to the organization. One identifies immediate needs of returning citizens, and the other addresses local and state-wide public policy issues. Besides offering leadership development training and mentoring, St. Vincent de Paul Reentry Program has had great success with its “Ban the Box” campaign. In Ohio, bipartisan support helped pass legislation to take a question about felony conviction off applications for employment. The hope is that employers fully consider an applicant’s credentials and skills before finding out that they’re returning citizens.

Paul Graham, national coordinator for the Vincentian Reentry Organizing Project of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, stated, “The CCHD grant gave us the capacity to bring an additional component to our leadership development work and enhance the impact we can have in advocacy to promote fair hiring and address other barriers to reentry.”

US wealth gap between young and old is widest ever

Who's really robbing our children's future - a Republican Congress and the rich. Not government "socialist" programs.

The wealth gap between younger and older Americans has stretched to the widest on record, worsened by a prolonged economic downturn that has wiped out job opportunities for young adults and saddled them with housing and college debt.

The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday.

While people typically accumulate assets as they age, this wealth gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation.

The analysis by the Pew Research Center reflects the impact of the economic downturn, which has hit young adults particularly hard. More are pursuing college or advanced degrees, taking on debt as they wait for the job market to recover. Others are struggling to pay mortgage costs on homes now worth less than when they were bought in the housing boom.

The report, coming out before the Nov. 23 deadline for a special congressional committee to propose $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years, casts a spotlight on a government safety net that has buoyed older Americans on Social Security and Medicare amid wider cuts to education and other programs, including cash assistance for poor families. Complaints about wealth inequality, high unemployment and student debt also have been front and center at Occupy Wall Street protests around the country.

"It makes us wonder whether the extraordinary amount of resources we spend on retirees and their health care should be at least partially reallocated to those who are hurting worse than them," said Harry Holzer, a labor economist and public policy professor at Georgetown University who called the magnitude of the wealth gap "striking."

The median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older was $170,494. That is 42 percent more than in 1984, when the Census Bureau first began measuring wealth broken down by age. The median net worth for the younger-age households was $3,662, down by 68 percent from a quarter-century ago, according to the Pew analysis.

Net worth includes the value of a person's home, possessions and savings accumulated over the years, including stocks, bank accounts, real estate, cars, boats or other property, minus any debt such as mortgages, college loans and credit card bills. Older Americans tend to hold more net worth because they are more likely to have paid off their mortgages and built up more savings from salary, stocks and other investments over time. The median is the midpoint, and thus refers to a typical household.

The 47-to-1 wealth gap between old and young is believed by demographers to be the highest ever, even predating government records.

In all, 37 percent of younger-age households have a net worth of zero or less, nearly double the share in 1984. But among households headed by a person 65 or older, the percentage in that category has been largely unchanged at 8 percent.

While the wealth gap has been widening gradually due to delayed marriage and increases in single parenting among young adults, the housing bust and recession have made it significantly worse.

For young adults, the main asset is their home. Their housing wealth dropped 31 percent from 1984, the result of increased debt and falling home values. In contrast, Americans 65 or older were more likely to have bought homes long before the housing boom and thus saw a 57 percent gain in housing wealth even after the bust.

Older Americans are staying in jobs longer, while young adults now face the highest unemployment since World War II. As a result, the median income of older-age households since 1967 has grown at four times the rate of those headed by the under-35 age group.

Social Security benefits account for 55 percent of the annual income for older-age households, unchanged since 1984. The retirement benefits, which are indexed for inflation, have been a consistent source of income even as safety-net benefits for other groups such as low-income students have failed to keep up with rising costs or begun to fray. The congressional supercommittee that is proposing budget cuts has been reviewing whether to trim college aid programs, such as by restricting eligibility or charging students interest on loans while they are still in school.

Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty, noted skyrocketing college tuition costs, which come as many strapped state governments cut support for public universities. Federal spending on Pell Grants to low-income students has risen somewhat, but covers a diminishing share of the actual cost of attending college.

"The elderly have a comprehensive safety net that most adults, especially young adults, lack," Danziger said.

Paul Taylor, director of Pew Social & Demographic Trends and co-author of the analysis, said the report shows that today's young adults are starting out in life in a very tough economic position. "If this pattern continues, it will call into question one of the most basic tenets of the American Dream - the idea that each generation does better than the one that came before," he said.

Other findings:

  • Households headed by someone under age 35 had their median net worth reduced by 27 percent in 2009 as a result of unsecured liabilities, mostly a combination of credit card debt and student loans. No other age group had anywhere near that level of unsecured liability acting as a drag on net worth; the next closest was the 35-44 age group, at 10 percent.
  • Wealth inequality is increasing within all age groups. Among the younger-age households, those living in debt have grown the fastest while the share of households with net worth of at least $250,000 edged up slightly to 2 percent. Among the older-age households, the share of households worth at least $250,000 rose to 20 percent from 8 percent in 1984; those living in debt were largely unchanged at 8 percent.


U.S. Hunger

We live in the world's wealthiest nation. Yet 13 percent of people living in the United States live in poverty.

Nearly one in four children live in households that struggle to put food on the table. That's 16.7 million children.

The most direct way to reduce hunger in the U.S. is through national nutrition programs. But while food assistance to hungry people is vital, it is not enough.

Hunger and Poverty Facts

Did you Know? Most Americans (51.4 percent) will live in poverty at some point before age 65. Read more

Causes of Hunger in the U.S.

Hunger is rooted in poverty. Parents earning low wages struggle to make ends meet and feed their children. Read more

How to End Hunger in the U.S.

The fastest, most direct way to reduce hunger is through nutrition programs. But long-term progress requires broader efforts to reduce poverty. Read more

U.S. Food Insecurity

Food insecure households are those that struggle to put food on the table at some point during the year. Read more


Injured Iraq Vets Come Home to Poverty

Following inquiries by ABC News, the Pentagon has dropped plans to force a severely wounded U.S. soldier to repay his enlistment bonus after injuries had forced him out of the service.

Army Spc. Tyson Johnson III of Mobile, Ala., who lost a kidney in a mortar attack last year in Iraq, was still recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when he received notice from the Pentagon's own collection agency that he owed more than $2,700 because he could not fulfill his full 36-month tour of duty.

Johnson said the Pentagon listed the bonus on his credit report as an unpaid government loan, making it impossible for him to rent an apartment or obtain credit cards.

"Oh man, I felt betrayed," Johnson said. "I felt, like, oh, my heart dropped."

Pentagon officials said they were unaware of the case until it was brought to their attention by ABC News. "Some faceless bureaucrat" was responsible for Johnson's predicament, said Gen. Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck, a three-star general and the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel.

"It's absolutely unacceptable. It's intolerable," said Hagenbeck. "I mean, I'm incredulous when I hear those kinds of things. I just can't believe that we allow that to happen. And we're not going to let it happen."

The Department of Defense and the Army intervened to have the collection action against Johnson stopped, said Hagenbeck.

"I was told today he's not going to have a nickel taken from him," he said. "And I will tell you that we'll keep a microscope on this one to see the outcome."

'Not So Good'

Hagenbeck also pledged to look into the cases of the other soldiers ABC News brought to the military's attention, including men who lost limbs and their former livelihoods after serving in Iraq.

"When you're in the military, they take good care of you," said the 23-year-old Johnson. "But now that I'm a vet, and, you know, I'm out of the military -- not so good. Not so good."

Johnson had been flying high last September, after being promoted from Army private first class to specialist in a field ceremony in Iraq. Inspired by his father's naval background to join the military after high school, Tyson planned a career in the military and the promotion was just the first step. But only a week after the ceremony took place, a mortar round exploding outside his tent brought him quickly back to Earth.

"It was like warm water running down my arms," he said. "But it was warm blood."

In addition to the lost kidney, shrapnel damaged Johnson's lung and heart, and entered the back of his head. Field medical reports said he was not expected to live more than 72 hours.

With the help of exceptional Army surgeons, Johnson survived. As he recuperated, however, Johnson faced perhaps an even greater obstacle than physical pain or injuries -- the military bureaucracy.

Part of the warrior ethos, the soldier's creed of the U.S. Army, is to "never leave a fallen comrade."

"And it doesn't just pertain to the battlefield," Hagenbeck said. "It means, when we get them home they're a part of the Army family forever."

But Johnson now lives in his car. It is where he spends most of his days, all of his nights, in constant pain from his injuries and unwilling to burden his family.

Better Off Dead?

Stories like Tyson Johnson's are not unique.

Many of the severely wounded soldiers returning from Iraq face the prospect of poverty and what they describe as official indifference and incompetence.

"Guys I've met, talking to people, they'd be better off financially for their families if they had died as opposed to coming back maimed," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly, who served as a civil affairs specialist for the Army while in Iraq.

On July 14, 2003, the Abilene, Texas, native had been on his way to a meeting about rebuilding schools in Iraq when his unarmored Humvee was blown up. A piece of shrapnel the size of a TV remote took his right leg off, below the knee, almost completely, Kelly said.

Kelly attests to receiving excellent medical care at Ward 57, the amputee section of Walter Reed, but said he quickly realized that the military had no real plan for the injured soldiers. Many had to borrow money or depend on charities just to have relatives visit at Walter Reed, Kelly said.

"It's not what I expected to see when I got here," he said. "These guys having to, you know, basically panhandle for money to afford things."

No Answer

Perhaps as a sign of the grim outlook facing many of these wounded soldiers, Staff Sgt. Peter Damon, a National Guardsman from Brockton, Mass., said he is grateful for being a double amputee.

"Well, in a way, I'm kind of lucky losing both arms because I've been told I'll probably get 100 percent disability," he said.

Damon, a mechanic and electrician, lost both arms in an explosion as he was repairing a helicopter in Iraq. He initially woke up in the hospital worried and anxious to learn that both forms of livelihood were taken away from him.

"Now what am I doing to do?" Damon said, faced with the prospect of supporting his wife, Jennifer, and two children. "I can't do either, none of those, with no hands."

The military fails to provide a lump sum payment for such catastrophic injuries. And Damon still has not heard from the military about what they plan to give in terms of monthly disability payments.

The last time Damon asked about the payments, he was told by the military that his paperwork had been lost.

"And then when I went to go back to inquire about it again, just to ask a question, I just wanted to see if they had found my paperwork, I was told I had to make an appointment and to come back five days later," he said.

A thick book of federal regulations specifies the disability rate based on how many limbs were amputated and precisely where.

The percentage rates were set during World War II.

Jennifer Damon said the shock of her husband returning with no arms has been replaced by the fear of destitution, as well as a frustration over her husband's final discharge. Like his disability benefits, Peter's release is being held up by the lost paperwork and unanswered phone calls.

"It's hard to understand," she said. "I mean, I need him more than they need him right now. It's been a long time. You've had him for a long time. I want him back."

A Failing System?

Staff Sgt. Larry Gill, a National Guardsman from Semmes, Ala., wonders whether his 20 dutiful years of military service have been adequately rewarded.

Last October, Gill injured his left leg when on patrol during a protest outside a mosque in Baghdad. A protester threw a hand grenade which left Gill, a former policeman, with leg intact, though useless. He received a Purple Heart from the military, but no program, plan or proposal of how to make a living in civilian life.

"It's not fair, and I'm not complaining," Gill said. "I'm not whining about it. You know, I just, I just don't think people really understand what we're being faced with.

Gill expects he will have to sell his home, the dream house he and his wife, Leah, designed and built, where they raised their children.

"I've never questioned my orders," he said. "I've slept with rats and stood in the rain and wondered why I was standing in the rain, and, you know, for my children to have to do without based on a lack of income from me, it's frustrating."

Leah Gill agreed. "I just don't feel we should have to uproot because of an injury that he received while he was serving the country," she said. "It shouldn't come down to that."

Gill and the others in Ward 57 have had their pictures taken frequently with visiting politicians.

"Where are the politicians? Where are the generals?" he asked. "Where are the people that are supposed to take care of me?"

Help and care will be forthcoming, promised Hagenbeck.

"There in fact was a plan," he said. "But again, it was not integrated in a seamless fashion that it needed to be. And that was not even, really, to be honest with you, recognized probably until sometime about a year ago. And these soldiers actually brought it to our attention about the transition problems."

The military would do a better job of taking care of their own, Hagenbeck said, though the system in place was often unwieldy, outdated and inadequate.

"Oh, there absolutely has been problems in the past," Hagenbeck said. "And they're in -- even with some of our soldiers today. Some missteps have been made. And they have not been taken care of the way they should have been taken care of."

Loyal Soldiers

To help these neglected soldiers, Hagenbeck said, the military created an advocacy program this past April called Disabled Soldier Support System, or DS3. The network is set up to fight for a soldier's benefits and entitlements, ease transition to civilian life, and deal with any other problems facing a disabled soldier, according to Hagenbeck.

But still there are soldiers like Johnson who fall through the cracks.

His mother, Willie Jean Johnson, worries her son may hurt himself.

"He's not going to say anything bad about the Army," she said. "I have never heard him say anything bad about it. But you can see the hurt in his eyes. You can see the hurt from his heart in his eyes."

Johnson said he usually keeps to himself, preferring to protect his son from seeing him in his current state. "I'd rather be to myself than to flare at somebody else and, you know, and hurt someone that I know I really love," he said.

One year after nearly being killed in combat, the Pentagon has yet to send Johnson his Purple Heart medal.

The Pentagon collection notices, however, arrive without fail.

As to Kelly's discovery that he and his wounded comrades had to beg and borrow to pay for their loved ones to visit while they recuperate, Hagenbeck said a new policy went into effect this weekend to alleviate part of the problem.

"There was no system in place to support them in their needs. And I'll be honest with you, until it came to our attention, to people that were paying attention, and then those that wanted to help, that obstacle was there," Hagenbeck said.

Incredibly, these soldiers remain dedicated to the military despite all they have endured.

"Even though the way I'm being treated, you know, as a vet, I'd still go back in," Johnson said. "I would."

"I love being a soldier," Kelly said. "I don't regret what happened. If I had to go back to Iraq knowing that there was that chance of losing my leg, I'd do it. Because that's what the nation asked me to do."


Following the airing of this report on PrimeTime Live, Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), a former infantryman, wrote a letter to the Pentagon demanding a progress report on the recently implemented Disabled Soldier Support System and further assurance that all wounded and disabled vets would be financially and otherwise assisted in making the transition to civilian life. "I am astonished by this story and disappointed," Dingell wrote, "that we are failing to fulfill our nation's duty to care for our injured veterans."

Veterans and Poverty: Gender and age matter

On this Veteran’s Day, I thought I would look at how military service impacts economic security.

According to the Census Bureau, poverty is low among veterans. Only 5.6 percent of veterans lived in poverty in 1999 – or about half the rate for all adults, which was 10.9 percent.

However, our youngest veterans, those who served in August 1990 or later, were among the most likely to be poor, with a poverty rate of 6.2 percent. And, according to this story from the Boston Globe, the VA says that the number of homeless women veterans is on the rise.

An estimated 6,500 female veterans end up homeless. While that’s a relatively small number, it is twice was it was a decade ago. Again, younger veterans are more at risk: One out of every 10 homeless vets under the age of 45 is now a woman. And many are single moms.

More from the Globe:

“Some of the first homeless vets that walked into our office were single moms,’’ said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “When people think of homeless vets, they don’t think of a Hispanic mother and her kids. The new generation of veterans is made up of far more women.’’

Overall, female veterans are now between two and four times more likely to end up homeless than their civilian counterparts, according to the VA, most as a result of the same factors that contribute to homelessness among male veterans: mental trauma related to their military service and difficulty transitioning into the civilian economy.

I will be thinking about these women and their children when I give thanks to all the women and men who fight and fought for our country.

U.S. Poverty Quiz

Matthew 25: 34-40

"I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing" oriented society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialsim and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon vause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies" Martin Luther King, Jr. 4/4/67

Q: What is the Federal poverty line for a family of 4 in 2012?

A: $22,350

Q: The number of people in the U.S. in 2011 ws the largest number in the past ___ years.

A: 15.1%, the largest number in the past 52 years.

Q: How many low incomes Americans had housing problems in 2010?

A: 16 million low income Americans had housing problems (such as living in overcrowded conditions, paying more than 1/2 of their income for housing, lving with a lack of hot water, electricity or other necessities for decent living) in 2010.

Q: Who are the "extreme poor" living in the U.S.?

A: Those making less the 1/2 the federal poverty line.

Q: How many Americans live in extreme poverty?

A: 20.5 million Americans. (Less than $11,000 a year for a family of 4)

Q: Who are those living in extreme poverty in our global community?

A: Extreme Poverty is a daily reality for over 1 billion people or 1 out of every 6 people on Earth. The extreme poor earn less than $1 a day. The vast majority of those living in poverty in both the developing and industrialized world are women and children.

Q: What does "absolute poverty" mean?

A: Absolute Poverty is defined as "a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.

Q: How many chlidren live in households struggling with hunger in the U.S.? One in six. One in five. One in four. One is three.

A: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly one in four children, or 23.3 percent, live in households struggling with hunger. (How much do you really know about poverty? )

Q: Who is eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program commonly known as food stamps)?

A: Households may have no more than $2,000 in countable resources, such as a bank account and their net income must be below the Federal Poverty Line. (file not found)

Q: What was the average daily benefit per household in 2009? $109 $59 $29 $9

A: Households receiving SNAP benefits in 2009 only received about $9 per day to meet their hunger and nutrition needs.

Q: Do I need to be a U.S. citizen to receive Food Stamp (SNAP) benefits?

A: Although you need a SS# and must be seeking work if able bodied, certain non-citizens, those admitted for humanitarian reasons or permanent residence, many children, elderly immigrants and individuals who have been working in the U.S. for certain periods of time, are eligible for SNAP even if other familh members are not eligible. (file not found)

Q: How many Americans received Food Stamp assistance in 2011?

A: A record 46 million in 2011, up from 32 million in 2008.

Q: How much assistance per month do the oor get from food stamps?

A: $100 per month per person.

Q: How many people did "Feed America's Second Harvest" (Santa Clara County CA) feed per month in 2009-2010?

A: An average of 231,311 people per month. That was an 11% increase over the previous year. The majority of people served are seniors and low-income families with children.

Q: Poverty and Race. Which racil-ethnic group has the largest numbr of people living in poverty? White/Causasian African America, Asian American, Latino

A: The white/Caucasian group makes up the largest racial ethnic group living in poverty today despite common (and inaccurate) stereotypes about the demographics of those in poverty. Following this group are Latinos, African Americas, and Asian Americans. African Americans and Latinos, however, suffer disproportionate rates of poverty.

Q: What percentage of children in the U.S. lived in families below the poverty line in 2011?

A: More than one in five children (22 percent of all chidren) lived in families with incomes below the poverty line. Almost 50 percent of these children, 7 million, live in extreme poverty.

Q: What percent of children living in single mother families were poor and what percent of children living in married-couple families were poor in 2009?

A: .44 percent of children living in single-mother families wre poor compared to 11 percent living in married couple families.

Q: Who is more likely to live below the poverty line: children under 5 or children 5-17?

A: Children under 5 (24 percent versus 19 percent.

Q: What would happen to poverty rates if women received the same wages as men who work the same number of hours, have the same education and union status, are the same age, and live in the same region of the country?

A: Poverty rates would be cut in half. Working families would gain an astounding $200 billion in familhy income annually.

Q: How many low-income working families have a parent with some post-secondary education?

A: 42%

Q: The working poor often eat in soup kitchens. Define the term "Working Poor".

A: Working poor - people who are economically disadvantaged despite the fact that they are fully employed.

Q: What percentage of jobs in the U.S. provide income below the poverty line?

A: 22 percent of all jobs provided income below the poverty line in 2010.

Q: How many of the jobs in the U.S. won't keep a family of four above the poverty level and provide few or no benefits?

A: 20 percent.

Q: In 1968 the minimum wage was $1.60 per hour. How much should the minimum wage have been in 2004 if it had kept pace with inflation?

A: $8.70 across the U.S.

Q: The richest 1% of the world receive as much income as what percentage of the poorest as of 2002?

A: 57 percent

Q: In 1965, CEOs in major companies made 24 times more than the average worker. In 2003, CEOs earned how many times more than the average worker? What about in 2005?

A: 185 times. In 2995, an average CEO was paid 821 times as much as a minimum wage earner, who eared just $5.15 per hour. An average CEO earns more before lunchtime on the very first day of work in the year than a minimum wage worker earns all year.

Q: In 2010, what was the tax bill for General Electric, a company that reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the U.S.

A: Zero. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

Q: Since owning a home can stabilize families and increase income over time, what was Wells Fargo accused of doing to black homeowners in a lawsuit filed in 2007?

A: Wells Fargo was 10 times more likely to sell African-American borrowers subprime loans in Minnesota, regardless of income. There are many cities across the U.S. now suing Wells Fargo for this having happened to their citizens.

Q: What did Wells Fargo agree to do on April 9, 2010, so the discrimination sit against them would be dropped?

A: They agreed to "develop fair loan programs for minorities".

Q: The U.S. poverty rate has never fallen by more than a third. True or False?

A: False: It fell by more than 40 percent between 1964 and 1973. By rebuilding our economy, creating good jobs, investing in families, and ensuring economic security we can replicate this success and move millions in the middle class. A 2007 CAP report shows that just four public policies would cut the U.S. poverty rate by 26 percent in 10 years.

Q: As protestants and catholics, what are we called to do when we recognize structures and systems that create and sustain poverty?

A: We are challenged to change those structures and systems. We are called, as were the Israelites, to remember our covenant with God. By being in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, we are in solidarity with God and honor our covenant responsibility.

Source:,73,What can we do?

Higher Poverty Tied to Increased Youth Suicide Risk

Increases in poverty and youth suicide rates go hand in hand, a new analysis shows.

YOUNG PEOPLE ARE MORE likely to die by suicide in high-poverty communities, a new study indicates.

Youth suicide rates have climbed in the U.S. in recent years, and the new study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, examines where young people may be most at-risk. The analysis of nearly 21,000 deaths over a decade shows that in U.S. counties with poverty rates of at least 20%, people 5 to 19 years old were 37% more likely to die by suicide than people in counties where less than 5% of residents lived in poverty.

"As a pediatrician, I do find it troubling that the number of children dying by suicide (has risen) considerably over the last decade," says Dr. Jennifer Hoffmann, the study's lead author and a pediatric emergency physician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

After controlling for factors like demographics and counties' urban-rural status, researchers found youth suicide rates rose in a "stepwise" manner across five levels of county poverty concentration – meaning as poverty rates rose, so did youth suicide rates. The relationship was especially strong for suicides by gun, the study found.

[ READ: D.C. Works to Expand Mental, Behavioral Care to All Public Schools ]

"We found that children are nearly twice as likely to die by firearm suicide in counties with high poverty concentration," Hoffmann says. More research is needed to determine whether "there are differences in the availability of firearms or differences in safe firearm storage practices in high-poverty areas."

Across the decade studied – from 2007 to 2016 – the overall suicide rate among those 5 to 19 years old was 3.35 per 100,000 in the highest-poverty communities, compared with 3.18 in the lowest-poverty areas, the study found. But areas with fewer people living in poverty aren't immune to the growing problem, Hoffman notes.

"In each of the poverty categories, all types of communities are experiencing higher suicide rates over time," she says.

The new findings are in line with previous data showing a surge in emergency department visits among young people for mental health crises, and an overall suicide rate in the U.S. that climbed by 33% between 1999 and 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says suicide risk is driven by a "combination of individual, relationship, community, and societal factors."

The new study suggests that factors at the county and household levels could affect a young person's risk in different ways. Kids who live in high-poverty households may have a more stressful home environment, for example, while low-income communities may lack the neighborhood infrastructure for children to grow up healthy, such as safe parks, good schools or high-quality mental health care, Hoffmann says.

But more research is needed to determine exactly how these and other factors are driving the uptick in youth suicide.

"More needs to be done to figure out the risk factors for suicide in order to prevent suicides and attempts before it's too late," Hoffmann says.

Suicide Lifeline: If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text "SOS" to 741741 any time of day or night or chat online.

Poverty associated with suicide risk in children and adolescents

Suicide in children under age 20 has been increasing in the U.S., with rates almost doubling over the last decade. Between 2007 to 2016, nearly 21,000 children ages 5-19 years old died by suicide. While the reasons for the increase are not well understood, new research from Boston Children’s Hospital shows a link between poverty and suicide in children and teens nationwide.

The researchers grouped the number of suicides into five levels of poverty at the county level ranging from a low of 0-4.9 percent to greater than 20 percent. They learned that the rate of suicides in children and adolescents is 37 percent higher in counties with the highest levels of poverty – where more than 20 percent of the population in the county lives below the federal poverty level – compared with suicide rates in the lowest levels of poverty. The research was published in a paper in JAMA Pediatrics.

“The results were consistent in a step-wise fashion,” says Lois Lee, MD, MPH, of the department of emergency medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. “As poverty increased, so did the rate of suicide.”

In this study, researchers collected information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Compressed Mortality File, which includes data on all U.S deaths., including cause of death. After searching for deaths by suicide, method of suicide, and county where the suicide occurred from 2007-2023, they paired that data with county-level poverty rates from US Census data and poverty estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) Program.

The findings from this study are similar to research from the CDC that found increases in suicide in youth and young adults ages 10-24 between 2000-2023.

Suicide by firearms linked with poverty

The study also revealed an increased suicide rate from firearms in the more impoverished counties compared to the least. However, suicide risk did not appear to increase for the methods of suffocation or poisoning – the two other leading causes of suicide in this study – based on county-level poverty. “This is important information since we know that firearm suicide attempts are far more lethal than other methods,” says Lee.

Method of pediatric suicide

Suffocation and firearms were the leading cause of firearm suicides by children and adolescents in the US, 2007-2023 (Alex Tash/Boston Children’s Hospital)

Lee and colleagues have been studying how poverty affects children’s health for several years. In an earlier paper, they discovered an increased risk of death for children < 5 years old from child abuse associated with counties with higher poverty levels. And in their own professional experience, they have seen a rise in the number of children and teens with mental health issues, including suicide attempts or thoughts of suicide, seeking care in the emergency department (ED). In a 2019 paper, they published research noting the rates of mental health visits in children ages 5-18 to the emergency room increased 5.5 percent annually from 2010-2023. Not only did the rates of mental health visits increase, but also the number of hours the patients were cared for in the ED. Mental health ED visits lasting more then 24 hours increased from 4.3 percent of mental health visits in 2010 to 18.8 percent of visits in 2016.

“From our knowledge about rising suicide rates in children and adolescents and how poverty influences childhood health, it was important to see if there was an association between the two,” Lee explains.

A window into suicide prevention

Knowing more about the associated risk factors for pediatric suicide may help guide interventions to prevent them.

“This study is more evidence that to provide the best healthcare for all children and youth, we need to try to improve some of the socio-economic areas or conditions where these children live,” says Lee. “At a minimum, that means actions like improving parental employment, increasing the minimum wage, and ensuring that everyone has health insurance.”

In recent years, research has been building that toxic stress during childhood has long-term health implications. “We know that adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress can affect behavioral and mental health,” says Lee. “It may also result in changes at the cellular level in the human body.”

The study authors report that children living in poverty are likely to be exposed to more family turmoil, violence, social isolation, and lack of positive peer-to-peer relationships and may be more likely to have emotional difficulties like depression and anxiety. Further, areas of concentrated poverty may lack infrastructure such as quality schools, sustainable jobs, health care facilities, and mental health resources supporting good health for adults and children.

Says Lee, “As pediatric suicide rates in the U.S. continue to rise, we must work to understand the contributors to pediatric suicide, including poverty-related factors, so that suicide prevention efforts can focus on the children at highest risk.”

Suicide Rates in Children, Teens Increase With Poverty 2/7/20

Counties with higher concentrations of poverty also had higher rates of pediatric suicide, according to a study published online in JAMA Pediatrics.

The retrospective study categorized suicides by 20,982 children and adolescents—ages 5 to 19 years—by poverty concentration in the youth’s county of residence. Researchers divided counties into 5 categories based on how much of its population lived below the federal poverty level: 0% to 4.9%, 5% to 9.9%, 10% to 14.9%, 15% to 19.9%, and 20% or more.

“The results were consistent in a step-wise fashion,” said researcher Lois Lee, MD, MPH, of the department of emergency medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts. “As poverty increased, so did the rate of suicide.”

Three-Day Intensive Intervention Significantly Reduces Suicidal Ideation

Compared with counties with the lowest poverty concentration (0%-4.9%), those with poverty concentrations of 10% or more had higher suicide rates, the study found. Adjusted incidence rate ratios were 1.25 for counties with a 10% to 14.9% poverty concentration, 1.30 for counties with a 15% to 19.9% poverty concentration, and 1.37 for counties with a 20% or more poverty concentration.

The rate of suicide by firearm was higher in counties with the most poverty, compared with those with the least, the study also found. The two other most prevalent methods of suicide—suffocation and poisoning—did not appear to be associated with county poverty concentration, however.

A better understanding about risk factors associated with pediatric suicide can inform interventions aimed at prevention, researchers noted.

“This study is more evidence that to provide the best healthcare for all children and youth, we need to try to improve some of the socio-economic areas or conditions where these children live,” Dr. Lee said. “At a minimum, that means actions like improving parental employment, increasing the minimum wage, and ensuring that everyone has health insurance.”—Jolynn Tumolo


Hoffmann JA, Farrell CA, Monuteaux MC, Fleegler EW, Lee LK. Association of pediatric suicide with county-level poverty in the United States, 2007-2023. JAMA Pediatrics. 2020 January 27;[Epub ahead of print].

McCarthy A. Poverty associated with suicide risk in children and adolescents [press release]. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Children’s Hospital; January 29, 2020.

Poverty Could Drive Up Youth Suicide Risk - 1/27/20

New research shows that children and teens in U.S. areas with greater levels of poverty face a higher risk of suicide.

"Our findings suggest that community poverty is a serious risk factor for youth suicide, which should help target prevention efforts," said lead study author Dr. Jennifer Hoffmann. She is a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

For the study, Hoffmann and her colleagues analyzed federal government data on suicides in children and teens aged 5 to 19 that occurred from 2007 to 2016.

They identified nearly 21,000 suicides in this age group, which works out to an annual suicide rate of 3.4/100,000 children. The majority of these suicides (85%) were among teens aged 15 to 19. Males accounted for 76% of the suicides, and whites for 69%.

Children and teens in U.S. counties where 20% or more of the population lives below the federal poverty level were 37% more likely to die by suicide than those in counties with the lowest poverty concentration.

Youth suicide by guns was 87% more likely in areas with the highest poverty levels, according to the study published Jan. 27 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

"Of particular concern is youth suicide using firearms, which occurred at significantly higher rates in high-poverty communities," Hoffmann said in a hospital news release.

Youth suicide in the United States has nearly doubled in the past decade, making it the second leading cause of death among youths aged 10 to 19.

"More research is needed to understand the poverty-related factors that might increase suicide risk among children and adolescents so that we can develop more effective interventions," Hoffmann said.

"Meanwhile, parents should not be afraid to talk openly with their kids about mental health and potential thoughts of suicide. This decreases stigma and may help the child get help before it's too late," she said.

Poverty may have a greater effect on suicide rates than do unemployment or foreclosures

New research shows that poverty may have a greater effect on suicide rates than do unemployment or foreclosures

County-level suicide rates in the United States had a strong positive relationship with county poverty rates, while no relationships were found between county measures of unemployment or foreclosures when poverty rates were controlled, according to a new study from the Alcohol Research Group (ARG), a program of the Public Health Institute, in collaboration with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Oregon Health and Science University, Prevention Research Center and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, analyzed data over a six-year period from 2005 to 2011 that includes the major U.S. economic downturn from 2007 to 2009. The study also found that for men 45 to 64 years old, the proportion of alcohol-related suicides and poverty rates were positively associated. This working-age group was a key demographic in rising suicide rates during the recession.

This is the first study to try to unravel how different features of such a downturn affect suicide rates and alcohol-related suicides in particular. It is also the first study to suggest that unemployment’s role may not be as significant as poverty.

“Our finding suggests that the consequences of unemployment were more important than being unemployed during this period,” said ARG senior scientist and lead author William C. Kerr. “These results are consistent with what we see in countries that have strong unemployment support systems — where being out of a job doesn’t increase your risk for suicide.”

Poverty was also found to mediate unemployment’s effect on suicide rates, which suggests that policies should focus directly on reducing poverty as well as on supporting people who are unemployed.

“The analysis also draws attention to the importance of targeting suicide prevention efforts in economically disadvantaged communities and incorporating alcohol control policies, abuse prevention and treatment for alcohol misuse into such efforts,” said Mark S. Kaplan, co-author and professor in UCLA Luskin’s Department of Social Welfare.

“County-level poverty rates reflect what’s happening at an individual and family level as well as across the entire area,” Kerr added. “It speaks to a lack of resources for people who are struggling. It’s possible that some people were already at a breaking point when the recession hit — it’s difficult to know for sure. But the results do tell us that we need better mechanisms in place to help the people who need it the most.”

The study analyzed data from 16 states included in the National Violent Death Reporting System during the study period. This system links data from coroner/medical examiner records, police reports, death certificates and crime laboratories.

Suicide and poverty in low-income and middle-income countries: a systematic review


Suicide is the 15th leading cause of death worldwide, with over 75% of suicides occurring in low-income and middle-income countries. Nonetheless, evidence on the association between suicide and poverty in low-income and middle-income countries is scarce. We did a systematic review to understand the association between suicidal ideations and behaviours and economic poverty in low-income and middle-income countries. We included studies testing the association between suicidal ideations and behaviours and economic poverty in low-income and middle-income countries using bivariate or multivariate analysis and published in English between January, 2004, and April, 2014. We identified 37 studies meeting these inclusion criteria. In 18 studies reporting the association between completed suicide and poverty, 31 associations were explored. The majority reported a positive association. Of the 20 studies reporting on the relationship between non-fatal suicidal ideations and behaviours and poverty, 36 associations were explored. Again, almost all studies reported a positive association. However, when considering each poverty dimension separately, we found substantial variations. These findings show a consistent trend at the individual level indicating that poverty, particularly in the form of worse economic status, diminished wealth, and unemployment is associated with suicidal ideations and behaviours. At the country level, there are insufficient data to draw clear conclusions. Available data show a potential benefit in addressing economic poverty within suicide prevention strategies, with particular attention to both chronic poverty and acute economic events.

Kids Living in Poverty Are 87 Percent More Likely to Die by Gun Suicide, Study Finds 1/27/20

Children living in poor areas are almost twice as likely to die by firearm suicide as those who reside in wealthier neighborhoods, according to a study published today in JAMA Pediatrics.

The paper seeks to unpack an alarming rise in the suicide rate among young people. Between 2007 and 2017, the suicide rate for people 10 to 24 years old climbed 56 percent, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in October 2019.

The JAMA Pediatrics study is the first to examine the relationship between child suicide and poverty. Researchers looked at suicides among children 5 to 19 years old in the United States from 2007 to 2016, and compared them to U.S. Census Bureau data showing the percentage of people living below the poverty level in each county.

Children living in counties with the highest concentrations of poverty were 37 percent more likely to die by suicide than children living in counties with the lowest poverty rates, the study found. But they were 87 percent more likely to die by firearm suicide.

More research is needed to understand precisely why there are higher firearm suicide rates among children living in counties with higher poverty rates, said Jennifer A. Hoffmann, the lead study author and an attending physician at the Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. It’s not clear, for instance, whether firearms are more readily available in places with high poverty rates, or if guns are less likely to be stored safely in poorer areas.

“As a pediatric emergency medicine doctor, I am seeing more and more children visiting the ER over time due to having thoughts of wanting to kill themselves,” Hoffmann said, noting that she launched her study with several other researchers after a child died by suicide in her own emergency department.

Hoffman pointed out that prior research has shown that most adolescents who die by firearm suicide use a family member’s gun.

Other doctors and researchers who have studied youth suicide said they are not surprised to hear it is linked to poverty, which is connected with all kinds of health problems including asthma, stroke, and substance abuse. “I wouldn’t be surprised by anything bad associated with poverty,” said Michael L. Nance, director of the Pediatric Trauma Program at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Nance said the study is a good reminder that pediatricians and public health workers can make a difference by speaking to families about firearms storage. “The same way you talk to people about using a car seat and children’s access to poisons, we should suggest that people weigh the risks and benefits of having a firearm in the home,” he said. In 2018, the American College of Physicians published a position paper recommending that doctors speak to their patients about guns in the home and counsel them about firearm safety. Past research has shown that physicians give such advice infrequently.

Dr. David Grossman, a senior investigator and pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in Washington State who has done research on child suicide and firearms, said more research is needed on how doctors can influence families to store guns safely. “That’s a ripe issue for research,” he said.

Economic status may be a warning sign for youth suicide

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for 10- to 19-year-olds.

Children are taking their own lives at an alarming rate in America, with suicide the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 19-year-olds in the U.S

The trend has impacted all communities, genders and socioeconomic populations -- but young people are more likely to die by suicide in poverty stricken areas, according to a new study by JAMA Pediatrics.

The study looked at nearly 21,000 cases of suicide from 2007 to 2019 and found that children between the ages of 5 and 19 were 37% more likely to die by suicide if they were from communities where 20% or more lived below the federal poverty level.

"As a pediatrician, I found it troubling that the number of children dying by suicide had risen considerably over the last decade," said lead author Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, pediatric emergency medicine physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. "I was seeing more and more children visiting the ER over time due to having thoughts of wanting to kill themselves. Trying to reduce tragic and unnecessary deaths among children is central to the work that I do as a pediatric emergency medicine doctor."

Poverty has long been known to be associated with worse health outcomes in children, including infant mortality, chronic illnesses like asthma, and even injury. This study is one of the first to connect increased suicide rates to poverty in children and adolescents.

"I chose to study poverty as a risk factor for suicide because we know that children living in poverty experience a number of other negative health outcomes," Hoffman said.

So why does it appear that poverty increases suicide rates among youths?

According to Dr. A. Lee Lewis, division and training director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, "Kids that are poor are already at a disadvantage. They don't have the privilege of a great education, extracurricular actives and sometimes even supportive families. In many cases, they are struggling to survive. That stress can be very overwhelming and can worsen underlying depression, bipolar disorder or substance use, which can ultimately lead to unfortunate outcomes."

The study also found that children are nearly twice as likely to die by suicide via firearms in counties with high poverty rates.

"More work needs to be done to figure out if there is a difference in availability of firearms or differences in safe firearm storage practices," said Hoffman, who warns that "parents should safely store any guns present in the home."

"From prior research, we know that most adolescents who die by firearm suicide use a gun owned by a family member," she said.

In vulnerable communities, experts say it's important to be aware of any possible warning signs.

"The number one thing I tell parents is to look for an increase in isolative behaviors, behaviors that are out of character, problems at school such as lashing out or defiant statements," Lewis said. "Even a sudden start or increase in substance use or promiscuous behavior may be a clue. Overall, look for changes in behaviors and mood."

"The number one predictor of completed suicide is previous suicide attempts," he said. "Pay close attention to self-harming (like cutting and burning). Family history of suicide is another important risk factor."

Authorities say that preventing youth suicide is a very complicated issue, but focusing on things we can change is a start.

"The truth is we don't 100% know why teens are turning to suicide." Lewis said. "We do know that identifying possible risk factors like poverty can give us clues. These clues can then help us to better screen, treat, and in the future hopefully prevent further suicide."

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting "SOS" to 741-741.

Youth Suicides, County-Level Poverty Go Hand in Hand — Association most striking for gun suicide

Suicides among children were more concentrated in high-poverty areas, a researcher said here.

Of 20,982 suicides to occur from 2007 to 2016, poverty-stricken counties had significantly higher suicide rates than counties with lower levels of poverty, and the rate increased along with poverty concentration, such that children in areas with the highest poverty levels (=20%) were more than one-third more likely to die by suicide than kids in the lowest poverty concentration (adjusted incidence rate ratio 1.60, 95% CI 1.34-1.91), reported Jennifer Hoffmann, MD, of Northwestern University in Chicago.

The trend was particularly pronounced for suicide by firearms, with children living in areas with the highest poverty concentrations dying by this method at more than twice the rate as children in low-poverty areas (aIRR 2.44, 95% CI 1.84-3.23), she said at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting.

"Children may experience poverty at both the individual and neighborhood levels, and both have distinct impacts on child health outcomes," Hoffmann said while presenting her findings.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among children ages 10-19 in the U.S., and is accelerating among teenagers. While poverty has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, how poverty influences suicide risk requires further study, Hoffmann said.

"Some potential mechanisms could include increased rates of adverse childhood experiences, social isolation, or hopelessness in areas with limited opportunity ... or differences in firearm availability or safe gun storage practices in these areas," Hoffmann said.

It may also be due to reductions in quality of life, or less accessible mental health resources, said Oren Miron, MA, of Harvard Medical School in Boston, who was not involved with this study.

"The study could help convince decision makers to put more mental health resources in low-income counties," Miron told MedPage Today in an email. "This may help stop suicide scenarios that are already stopped in richer counties with more mental health resources."

For this study, Hoffmann and her team linked youth suicides recorded in the CDC's Compressed Mortality File with U.S. census data. They controlled for year and child age, sex, and race, as well as the composition of the county in terms of age, sex, and race.

Overall, 20,982 children died by suicide for an annual rate of 3.4 suicides per 100,000 children. The vast majority of suicides involved teens ages 15-19 (85%), male (76%), and white (82%), the authors reported.

Across the study period, there was a 53% increase in youth suicide, Hoffmann reported. Suicides were also much more common in rural than urban counties (aIRR 1.66, 95% CI 1.45-1.91), she added.

Overall, suicides increased along with increasing poverty levels such that the following poverty concentrations had higher rates compared to the lowest poverty level:

  • 10%-14.9% poverty: aIRR 1.31 (95% CI 1.11-1.54)
  • 15%-19.9% poverty: aIRR 1.38 (95% CI 1.17-1.62)
  • =20% poverty concentration: aIRR 1.60 (95% CI 1.34-1.91)

The rate of suicides by suffocation increased with poverty levels as well, such that counties in the highest versus lowest poverty concentrations had a significantly higher rate of suicide (aIRR 1.33, 95% CI 1.04-1.69), the authors reported. No association was found between poverty-stricken counties and suicides by poisoning.

Hoffmann said the study is limited because they were not able to determine children's household poverty status, which can have a compounding effect on living in a high-poverty area.

"Overall, targeted suicide prevention efforts must focus on children with the highest identified risk," Hoffmann said. "We now identify county poverty concentration as an additional risk factor for pediatric suicide."

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or texting "SOS" to 741741..

Association between Food Insecurity and Suicide Risk

A recent study found an association between participation in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and suicide risk. While other studies have found that food insecurity can contribute to mental health issues and suicidal behaviors (thoughts, plans, and attempts) globally,1 this is the first study to document the association in a nationally representative U.S. sample.

To determine whether SNAP is an appropriate setting for suicide prevention, researchers analyzed 2012-2023 data on adults ages 18 and older from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In the survey, SNAP participation was measured by asking whether the respondent or a member of their household had received benefits in the past year. Suicide-related outcomes were also measured with yes-no questions about having suicidal thoughts, planning a suicide attempt, or attempting suicide in the past year. The analyses controlled for demographic variables such as race/ethnicity, gender, marital status, age, education, employment status, and household income and size. Adjusted models were stratified by demographic factors, socioeconomic status, self-perceived physical health status, mental health service use, and age.

The results of the analyses indicated that SNAP participants were 1.89 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, 2.35 times more likely to have planned suicide, and 2.89 times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year than non-SNAP participants. When these results were adjusted to account for survey year, demographics, socioeconomic status, health status, and mental health service use, the association between SNAP participation and suicidal thoughts remained significant, with slight significance for planning and attempts.

These findings suggest systematically screening SNAP participants for mental health and suicidal behaviors may allow early identification of those at risk and offer an opportunity for prevention and intervention, particularly for those who may not be reached through other social services. This study is especially relevant given the increased prevalence of food insecurity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to note that this is a cross-sectional study (i.e., it reflects data collected at one point in time) and does not reflect current or ongoing conditions. The study measured SNAP participation by household rather than individual, and therefore may have implications for engaging the person at risk in suicide screening and intervention.

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Bergmans, R. S., Jannausch, M., & Ilgen M. A. (2020). Prevalence of suicide ideation, planning and attempts among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants in the United States. Journal of Affective Disorders, 277, 99–103.

Koyanagi, A., Stubbs, B., Oh, H., Veronese, N., Smith, L., Haro, J. M., & Vancampfort, D,. (2019). Food insecurity (hunger) and suicide attempts among 179,771 adolescents attending school from 9 high-income, 31 middle income and 4 low-income countries: A cross-sectional study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 248, 91–98.

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 Poverty is not the absence of wealth. It's the absence of dignity. Jonathan Glennie

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