Poverty is often thought of as something that strikes kids in places like Africa and India. And while that's true, a new study shows that poor American teens might feel the effects of poverty — like violence — as much or more than their counterparts in other places.
A global study of low-income teens analyzed living conditions of 15-19 year olds in poor neighborhoods in Baltimore, Shanghai, Johannesburg, New Delhi and Ibadan, Nigeria. While all of these locations are affected by poverty, teens in Baltimore and Johannesburg reported their well-being to be worse.
Why should Baltimore teens feel the effects of poverty so keenly compared to their counterparts who live in poorer countries? Part of the answer is violence and social problems.
Baltimore and Johannesburg teens felt less safe than their peers. Only 43.9 percent of males in Johannesbuerg said they felt safe in their neighborhoods, and 66 percent of females in Baltimore. They also had the highest averages for witnessing violence.
“When you look at how they perceive their environments, kids in both Baltimore and Johannesburg are fearful. They don’t feel safe from violence,” lead author of the study Kristen Mmari, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins, told Vacativ.
“This is something we didn’t really see in other cities. In Shanghai, for example, there wasn’t a great deal of violence. You’d ask kids about their safety concerns, and they would say something like, ‘I’m afraid of crossing a busy street.’ ”
These two cities also showed low perceptions about their physical environments and "social cohesion" or the sense of general well-being and belonging in a community.
Baltimore teens had high rates of mental health issues, drug use, sexual violence and teen pregnancy, while teens in New Delhi had few signs of these social problems.
The study linked violence and weak social cohesion with some of these issues. Fifty percent of adolescent girls in Baltimore and 29 percent in Johannesburg had been pregnant, while more than 10 percent of teenage girls in both cities said they have been raped or assaulted by someone in the previous year.
The study authors noted that the total wealth of a country like the U.S. is not always linked to better social circumstances for its poor communities.
"It is worth noting that in spite of its location in a high-income country, the Baltimore neighborhood had some of the lowest ratings," study authors wrote.