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Poverty’s Impact on Short-Term Decision-Making, Street Harassment, Mass Incarceration and the

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Welcome back to In Case You Missed It (our weekly roundup of articles touching on psychology, health, mental health and social justice issues from multiple news and commentary websites). This week, we address the impact of poverty on short-term decision-making, why we need to take street harassment seriously, the devastating impact of mass incarceration on the Black family and more.

We tend to blame the poor for being poor, rather than looking closely at systemic causes. Psychologist Elliot Berkman studies goals and motivations.  He wanted to know how self-control works, and whether we can improve our ability to exercise self-control. He decided to look at poverty, figuring that improving self-control was bound to help.  He found that poverty forces people to live in the present, focusing on immediate needs for today:  “In our society, hardly anything is more adverse to survival than poverty. It would be foolish to spend precious mental resources thinking about solving a problem that won’t occur for a month when you can’t afford dinner tonight.”  Scientists, Dr. Berkman argues, need to rethink how they define self-control, particularly in the context of poverty. Choices poor individuals make are largely an outcome of living in poverty, much more than poverty is an outcome of choices.

The Washington Post reported recently that new federal data indicates the number of homeless children in public schools has doubled since before the recession, from 679,724 in 2006-07 to a record 1,360,747 in 2013-14. Teachers in public school are not only working to help children learn, but to get basic needs met and help them deal with the stress and trauma of poverty and homelessness. According to the article, children who are homeless are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities, more likely to miss schools and change schools, more likely to drop out, and more like to score lower on tests. For more on the impact of poverty on children and families, see resources at APA’s Office on Socioeconomic Status.

Yes, it’s big deal. In a recent global study by Hollaback and Cornell University, more than ¾ of U.S. women surveyed who were under 40 reported being followed in the past year.  More than 50% of women reported being groped, fondled or assaulted by passing men. Depending on the country, 80% to 90% of women reported street harassment, with girls of color, the LGBTQ community, and women with disabilities particularly affected.  See more on the sexualization of girls in APA’s report.

The United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world. Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the roots of mass incarceration in the U.S. and its far reaching and devastating impact. Policies from the 1960s forward have resulted in the incarceration of more and more individuals, with policymakers pointing to increases in the rate of violence as the cause. But incarceration rates do not consistently relate to rates of violent crime. For example, while rates of violent crime increased from the 1960s into the early 1970s, incarceration rates fell. From the mid 1970s to late 1980s, imprisonment rates and violent crime increased. From the early 1990s to the present, violent crime rates have fallen. But incarceration rates increased. Black men and boys have been disproportionately affected. “Among all black males born since the late 1970s, one in four went to prison by their mid-30s; among those who dropped out of high school, seven in 10 did.”  The impact on Black boys, men, and families has been devastating.

What do you think of these stories? What did we leave out?

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