Poor Kids: A Child’s Perspective of Living in Poverty
By: Elizabeth Jahn
Poverty is an ongoing problem in the United States, particularly among our most
vulnerable population. In 2015, the poverty rate in the United States was 13.5%. The rate of
poverty among children aged 18 and under in the United States was 19.7%. These rates are
substantial, and have only slightly declined over recent years. Child poverty is not a recent
problem. In 2012, the poverty rate in the United States was 15.8% and the child poverty rate was
21.8%. The poverty rate has not substantially improved as the United States has worked itself out
of a recession.
We constantly hear that poverty is an overwhelming problem in our country, but what
may remain unclear is what the term poverty technically means. Poverty is defined as an annual
income of less than $24,000 a year for a family of four. Extreme poverty is defined as an annual
income of less than half of the $24,000 a year poverty level. Thus, families living in poverty can
barely afford to meet their basic needs and often struggle to keep their homes and provide for
their children. Poor Kids is a PBS Frontline documentary filmed in 2012 that tells the story from
a perspective not often heard; that of children living in poverty. Since the filming of Poor Kids,
the child poverty rate in the United States has declined, but still remains very high. Child poverty
has lasting impacts on children’s lives and can result in a cycle of poverty. The cycle of poverty
describes families who live in poverty for multiple generations. Children, like the ones featured
in Poor Kids, grow up in poverty and often are unable to lift themselves out of it. As a result,
their children grow up in poverty and the cycle continues.
II. SUMMARY OF POOR KIDS
The film Poor Kids followed three children whose families lived in poverty. At the time
Poor Kids was filmed, one in five children living in the United States were living in poverty and
one in forty-five were homeless. The film focused on Brittany, Kaylie, and Johnny, in order to
get a unique, child’s perspective of the challenges child poverty brings.
Brittany was a nine-year-old girl who lived in a family of four when the film commenced.
Brittany’s mother suffered from mental health problems which prevented her from working.
Brittany’s father lost his job and her family struggled to pay the bills. Brittany’s family was in a
low socioeconomic class before her father’s job loss, and they quickly moved into poverty when
he became unemployed. As a result, Brittany’s family downsized to a much smaller house and
Brittany and her brother feared they would not be able to stay in their smaller home. Brittany
talked about being hungry and how she missed the healthy food that her family used to eat.
Brittany and her brother received free food from school through the “nutrition club.” The
“nutrition club” provided poor students with a bag of food on Fridays intended to last them
through the weekend. Brittany emptied the bag in front of her mother when she got home from
school and it was clear that the family would be sharing the food items that were provided.
Although receiving a bag of food from the “nutrition club” may seem insignificant, the film