Valerie graduated in 2005 with a degree in early childhood education and about $32,000 in debt. She got her first job in children’s services and worked at an entry level for several years before budget tightening squeezed her out.
No problem right? Unemployment is low, and sure enough, Valerie landed something — after a search that lasted long enough to absorb what little reserves she had. not surprisingly, it wasn’t in her chosen profession. Those jobs continued to be fewer and farther between. She does get to work with kids, though — as the janitor at her child’s school. Her school loans are swelling in deferred status, and by the third week of every month, she’s making hard choices about utility bills and food. The prospect of a medical bill, any medical bill, looms on the horizon like an iceberg over the bow of the Titanic.
Wait a minute, you say. Valerie has a college education. The economy has been dancing in the streets for years now. And everyone knows the poor are poor because of the choices they make, education they didn’t get, character they lack, right?
The truth goes viral
Actually about 4.5% of the nation’s college graduates live at or below the federal poverty line, more than 22,000 of them live in Kansas. A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank found that 43% of our degree-holding citizens are underemployed, and college graduates make up nearly half of the working poor in the American workforce. Given that 9 out of 10 new jobs are going to degreed candidates, the prospects are even worse for those less educated than Valerie.
At this writing, the coronavirus, alias COVID-19, is painting the world map red. We are discovering on a global scale just how true it is that good health is a commodity we should all have access to — or eventually, we all suffer.
But access, wherever we live on that map, is too often complicated by economic status. So much so that being poor deprives us of much more than a good car or the Christmas we all want for our kids. It has a cause-and-effect relationship to not only the health of those who live in it but everyone who doesn’t and the communities we all share.
Poverty as a health risk
It turns out that not having health insurance is just the start of a cascading set of problems. The next step is, of course, not going to see your doctor. That eliminates virtually any preventive care. If you are pregnant, a lack of prenatal care can lead to babies with low birth weights, not to mention the risk to maternal health.
As your health declines, you miss more work (and most likely income) which does wonders for your stress level, leading to things like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Of course, you’re likely eating on the run and on the cheap, so your diet is helping to advance those conditions and more. There’s even data to suggest that it’s more dangerous to be poor because you’re more likely to be injured or worse from an accident.