Imagine it's the morning of a big exam. You're ready to excel when suddenly a hangover coupled with a week's worth of sleepless nights hit you. You're reeling. You don't know how you will brave this test with your mental bandwidth compromised.
According to Science, the world's poor must deal with this type of situation every day. But it is poverty that drains their cognitive abilities rather than academic challenges. The exam before them is the art of survival.
Studies indicate that dealing the pressures of poverty are tantamount to losing 13 I.Q. points, which is analogous to the intellectual difference between chronic alcoholics and healthy adults.
With this discovery, the "American Dream" crashes to the ground. How can this land of opportunity give infinite chances to those who are hardworking and smart? How come if you're poor, it's because you're lazy, or worse, dumb?
Turns out, you're not poor because you're not as smart as the rich guy on your block. However, poverty is actively affecting your ability to address every aspect of your life, from parenthood, to education, to natural reflexes.
So in America, the wealthiest economy in the world, who is affected by this study?
More people than you have likely imagined. The bottom 80% of income earners own a mere 7% of national wealth, while the bottom half of taxpayers partake in 0.5% of the country's investment. The fear of starvation hounds more Americans today than it did only a few decades ago.
In a country where the top 1% possesses 40% of American wealth, where the typical CEO makes 380 times his average employee's salary, the rich do not need more benefits. But here it is. They have the satisfaction of knowing their intelligence can accomplish that much more because their minds aren't burdened by anxiety about next month's rent or grocery bill.
Poverty is akin to an illness. It absorbs our energy and mental prowess day by day. Those who have evaded it successfully have an explicit responsibility to utilize that extra mental bandwidth they have to rescue poorer Americans. And not just out of the goodness of their hearts. It is imperative that the bottom income class moves towards better jobs and incomes. Otherwise, America faces the possibility of severe underconsumption and a growing lack of demand, which can lead to recession, lower standards of living, and a population numbed by financial troubles.
So what now? Do we start handing out money at traffic signals to combat income inequality? No. But we should wake up and realize that poverty is not a product of laziness or stupidity. It is the root of broken marriages, abusive childhoods, self-harm, depression, weak academics, poor job performances, and unrest.
By responding to the most recent fast food worker strike with better wages and benefits, could we see better service and business? Possibly. By raising the minimum wage, or increasing need-based educational grants, will we see happier, more capable citizens? Probably. By reducing poverty, will we free up the minds of several hundreds of Americans? Certainly.
If we don't deliver, the next time debt-ridden students can't meet their term paper deadlines, it may be the beginning of a lifelong trend of frustrating failures for them, to little fault of their own.