Growing gaps in family structure, educational investments, school readiness, test scores, and college entry and completion all make upward economic mobility a more difficult prospect for children born to poor families. Poor children in poor neighborhoods are at an even greater disadvantage. Growing up in an impoverished community doesn’t only affect your lifetime earnings – it can also affect the length of your life. It can even affect the quality of the air you breathe and the water you drink.
Limited income mobility among poor and minority children is often linked to differences in social environment, be it family, peer, school, or neighborhood environment. But income and race are also closely associated to the quality of one’s natural environment. Disparities in exposure to environmental toxins and pollution are more frequently the subject of the natural sciences, but their deep relationship with socioeconomic factors demands greater attention from social scientists. Indeed, a deep body of scientific research shows a strong and persistent relationship between socioeconomic status and exposure to environmental hazards. There is a good case for measuring poverty across multiple dimensions. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about environmental poverty as an additional dimension of poverty.
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