Cars …. and lead?

It has been a crazy week! Between my car breaking down and being in the shop for two days, to fitting in 40 hours of work, this week has definitely tested my organizational skills, work ethic, and my patience. I will be forever grateful for the flexibility KidSMILES has offered me, especially this week, by allowing me to do a lot of work from home!

While my car was in the shop, it had our puppet with dentures in the trunk – that obviously brought up some questions! When explaining to the mechanics what I was doing this summer, one of them made a comment that “we should not be giving handouts to people just because they don’t work hard enough to provide for their kids” (which caused another one to say “dude, they’re kids!”), and it made me realize how common this mindset is. I think it is easier to think that low-income people simply “don’t work hard enough” instead of grappling with the systemic reasons that keep people poor and make poverty cyclic.

It’s just one example, but I always think of lead poisoning when trying to explain this to people. There is a common misconception that kids get lead poisoning by eating lead paint, and that their parents just aren’t paying enough attention, but this isn’t always true. Lead paint, like almost everything else, eventually wears away and can become dust, which is inhaled by anyone living in the house. While lead does not affect adults as much, this can be disastrous for the kids. (Shout out to my Environmental Risk Assessment class I always claimed I hated – I guess I learned a lot!)

Now, let’s take a family with low income that can neither afford a newer house without lead paint nor afford to adequately remove lead paint from their existing home (which can cost at least $10,000!). Even if we were to assume that the parents were poor because they were lazy (which is almost always not the case), a 6-year-old kid cannot do anything about their living situation; they are stuck, breathing in dust with lead in it. Lead poisoning causes behavioral issues and developmental delay. This can cause the child to be unsuccessful at school, have violent outbursts, decreases their chances of being able to get into college, and may land them in the criminal justice system, all because they grew up in a house with lead paint. As we all know, staying out of trouble and getting a higher education raises your chances of having a livable income. So, this 6 year old has a higher chance of growing up and continuing to be poor, and if they have kids, they may only be able to afford an old house or apartment with lead paint, and the cycle continues.

This is one example of hundreds why we can’t simply tell low-income people to work harder – almost always, this will not help their or their children’s situation. Again, I think it is difficult for people to try to understand how intersectional and cyclical poverty is.

I think understanding these concepts is key to being able to do nonprofit work, especially work dealing with low income and health care. With KidSMILES, allowing these families to get dental care for their children for a relatively low cost can help alleviate this burden. Having social safety nets like this is a way to break the cycle, and I am proud to be doing my part.

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