"I was born into a family that was afflicted by domestic violence, child abuse and mental illness," Shrader told the subcommittee. "Some say poverty is a death sentence. Frankly, I don't know how many times I have been given that death sentence."
Shrader, who also recently testified before a joint committee of the West Virginia Legislature, was the first person in her family to finish high school and to finish college. She is now working on a master's in social work at Concord University, where she also works for the school's Upward Bound program, which helps low-income kids prepare for college.
She credited the same Upward Bound program, which she participated in, as the reason she was able to finish high school and college. Upward Bound has seen its budget cut by about 5 percent by federal budget cuts known as sequestration, with more cuts looming.
"I am not a success story; I did not pull myself up by my boot straps," Shrader said. "I am proof that we live in a country where, even if you work hard and do everything you are supposed to do, you still may not have enough money to make ends meet. I am still struggling to this day."
Other witnesses spoke of poverty's effects not just in terms of the way it limits healthy options -- the inability to buy health insurance, healthy food, quality housing or a gym membership -- but also in terms of poverty's physiological effects on people.
Being poor increases stress, which makes people less healthy, regardless of what they can or cannot afford to buy.
"Lack of choice and increased stress increases levels of [the hormone] cortisol, and higher levels of cortisol are linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes," said Michael Reisch, a professor of social work at the University of Maryland.
"Poverty is not just a statistic," Reisch said. "Poverty is also a thief. It steals years of life from its victims."
Reach David Gutman at david.gut...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.