According to the Root Cause Coalition, health equity is health justice. Everyone deserves a fair and equal opportunity to live a long, healthy life. In America, the single most important factor in our overall health is our zip code. Basically, the environments where we live, work, learn and grow represents both an opportunity and a challenge for the healthcare community.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Root Cause Coalition's National Summit in New Orleans earlier this month. Even as someone who works to fight hunger every day, it was so insightful. Hunger is just one piece of poverty. There are so many things that lead to a cycle of poverty that is so difficult to get out of. The "root causes" of poverty go beyond generational poverty, losing a job, or other catastrophic situation. Poverty is rooted in systemic issues that can be like quicksand--health insurance, jobs, mental health, education, transportation, addiction, barriers to making healthy choices, childcare...the list goes on and on.
In a small way, I was able to experience these challenges when I was part of a poverty simulation workshop. The Cost of Poverty Experience is training that offers participants a glimpse into the lives of low-income individuals and families living in our community. It is a look into the obstacles that are faced, the decisions that are made, and the consequences that impact these families every day. I was assigned an identity and a family. I was a Caucasian male, in my late 30s, with a nonviolent felony on my record. I had a wife, a 10-year-old daughter, and a 1-year-old with asthma. I had a job but was laid off and since that time had been unable to find work due to my criminal history. Having a steady job was a condition of my parole. Right away, I saw the devastating cycle--I have to get a job to stay out of jail but I can't get a job because I was in jail. I am a person who is trying to turn my life around, care for my family, and right off the bat I am set up for failure.
We were lucky enough to have a car (many in the simulation did not) and decent health insurance. However, as I moved through the simulation with my family (we experienced a month over the course of 2 hours) things were constantly changing. Just when I thought I had it together something would happen. This is life, right? However, what struck me was the constant level of anxiety I had over things beyond my control--feelings of hopelessness set in quickly. I was able to get a part-time job and once I did, I was re