And how is one to move up from the lower group to the higher one? Education is key, Temin writes, but notes that this means plotting, starting in early childhood, a successful path to, and through, college. That’s a 16-year (or longer) plan that, as Temin compellingly observes, can be easily upended. For minorities especially, this means contending with the racially fraught trends Temin identifies earlier in his book, such as mass incarceration and institutional disinvestment in students, for example. Many cities, which house a disproportionate portion of the black (and increasingly, Latino) population, lack adequate funding for schools. And decrepit infrastructure and lackluster public transit can make it difficult for residents to get out of their communities to places with better educational or work opportunities. Temin argues that these impediments exist by design.
When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.
This happens to everyone at some point, regardless of social class. The overload can be prompted by any number of things, including an overly stressful day at work or a family emergency. People in poverty, however, have the added burden of ever-present stress. They are constantly struggling to make ends meet and often bracing themselves against class bias that adds extra strain or even trauma to their daily lives.
And the science is clear—when brain capacity is used up on these worries and fears, there simply isn’t as much bandwidth for other things.
When faced with dwindling funding, one response would be to cut a program or reduce the number of people an organization serves. But nonprofit leaders have shown themselves very reluctant to do that. Instead, many meet financial challenges by squeezing more work out of their staffs without a proportional increase in their pay: The Urban Institute report found that most nonprofits choose to cut salaries, benefits, and other costs long before scaling back their operations. “There is this feeling that the mission is so important that nothing should get in the way of it,” Elizabeth Boris, one of the Urban Institute report’s authors, says.