Friday, October 3, 2014

Why Poverty and Disability Are A Double Threat

 Contributed by Emma Norton

Like many other disenfranchised groups, those people living with disabilities are much more likely to experience poverty than the average population. People with physical disabilities are twice as likely to live with poverty, in fact - approximately 24 per cent beneath the poverty line, versus 12 per cent for the general population, according to 2013 statistics released recently. Mental illness, including addiction, is another issue which both causes and is exacerbated by lack of resources; studies have shown that if one traces the life of an individual suffering from a mental illness, their pattern of residence is likely to move through less and less affluent zip codes. Once below the poverty line, those with disabilities - either physical or mental - must struggle to receive the care they need, and a vicious cycle begins. By understanding the causes and concerns of this high rate of poverty, we may be more able to support programs which help to reverse this cycle, and to take control of our own lives and aid others in doing the same.

Less Time, Fewer Resources, Fewer Opportunities 
Laws which protect those living with disabilities are in place, but they do little to change the central facts which cause and continue the cycle of poverty. It is fundamentally true that disabilities take time and energy to manage - everything from the process of getting ready in the morning, to getting to and from work can take far longer than one might expect. This not only cuts into the time available for doing work (let alone having the chance to relax), but it also creates a situation in which anything which calls for additional time or energy is that much more difficult to achieve. A second job, for instance, may simply not be possible, making it easy to begin accumulating debt with no chance to pay it off if one is working at a part-time minimum wage job. Furthermore, if you are already working at full capacity, any setback can quickly become an emergency. A worsening of chronic conditions, which happens regularly for many people, may lead to unpaid sick days off work, the need to visit doctors or hospitals (which takes time and money as well), and so on. 

The Vicious Cycle
Poverty causes and is caused by mental and physical illness, and it can be a Sisyphean task to try to reverse this. Take addiction, for example; experts have stated that recovery is most likely in a supportive environment, such as Anonymous groups. If you are working two jobs in order to stay afloat, there’s precious little time to attend meetings or reach out to others for help. Many people struggling with addiction (often caused by the stresses of poverty) may lose their job, forcing them to find another - likely at a lower pay rate, or more taxing hours. The lack of money for medical care or critical equipment is another important factor which worsens chronic physical and mental conditions, once again leading to less earning potential and potentially slipping further into the cycle of poverty. Despite the programs set in place in an attempt to curb these effects, it is clear from the statistics that there is not enough funding to create a functioning safety net for those who need it most. 

Intersectionality and Poverty
As has been mentioned, there are higher rates of disability and mental illness diagnosed among those who are already living below the poverty line. Due to the mechanics of intersectionality, one might already expect that many of these people are already disenfranchised in some way. People of color, LGBT people (particularly youth), the elderly, and those living in certain regions of America are all more likely to suffer from both poverty and illness, making it that much more difficult to emerge from under the poverty line. In order to realistically and viably help turn around the numbers of people with disabilities living below the line, we must also acknowledge the needs of other disenfranchised groups. The program known as Obamacare is a first step, but it is local and community programs which may offer the most help in the long run, so long as communities offer their support for these vital resources.

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