Low income families in America not only find it difficult to meet the funeral expenses of their child, they are also more likely to suffer the unfortunate fate of their child dying early.

In this article, we will look at how even basic funerals have become simply too expensive for many families in lower and middle income groups.

Additionally, what are the systemic factors that combine to deal a double blow of higher child mortality and subsequent exorbitant funeral expenses, to already at risk groups. 

So, how much does a funeral cost?

The basic charges begin to add up and include:

  • Burial and service fee
  • Transportation of remains
  • Casket
  • Embalming
  • Cemetery costs such as monuments, markers, flowers
  • Obituaries & Legacy Services

The total cost can vary depending on what you choose to spend on and what you choose to decline and skip.

In the past few years, Funeral costs have continuously gone up. In 2019, the median funeral cost stood at $9,135 (including a burial with viewing & vault) and $6,645 (cremation with viewing & casket and urn). These figures are excluding the cost of things like cemetery, monument, flowers and a newspaper obituary or online legacy service. (Source)

Materials of the caskets and urns used also significantly affect the final bill. Prices of some caskets and urns can cost a family more than one thousand dollars. For example, the median cost of a wooden burial casket was found to be $3,000.

Most people also choose to go with burial vaults, rather than skip them, to ensure respectable handling of the body (and some states require them). And, all these necessary and often unavoidable expenses add up. 

Therefore, many resources advise having a fund totaling at least $10,000 to cover any additional unforeseen charges. 

Lastly, parents suffering from loss of a child are not in the mental state to do market research and are constrained by time. Sadly, these facts are exploited by some funeral homes and cemeteries to charge higher prices. Costs as high as $12,000 are not unheard of for a child. (Due to this, it is advised to check prices of multiple funeral homes.)

Now that we have an idea of average funeral costs in America, let’s look at how poverty is connected to child mortality. 

We aim to shed light on why the poor are more likely to need help with burial costs and at the same time, why they are also more likely to suffer child loss.

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Facts About Poverty, Funerals, and Child Mortality.

A 2018 survey put the number of American children living in poverty at 11.9 million

In 2019, about 33.98 million Americans were living below the poverty line in the United States. (Sources

Poor people are less likely to have emergency savings or cash surplus at hand to meet any sudden large expense. 

Additionally, a large percentage of Americans, especially from low-income and at risk groups, are uninsured.  (Source)

These are statistics before the pandemic. (The pandemic has likely worsened an already dismal situation in 2020.)

These factors leave Americans, especially belonging to the poorest sections, under prepared to meet the financial burden of a funeral. (Our mission at The Henzi Foundation is to help these families)

It’s no wonder that families struggling to make ends meet are also the most to suffer when it comes to dealing with the financial cost of death.

The picture gets darker however. 

As alluded to before, not only are the poor more likely to be unprepared to meet funeral costs, they are also more likely to suffer from child loss. 

Research has found child mortality rates are much higher in low-income groups and other at risk groups (Source [1]) ([2]). 

A point to note is that a child cannot pay for their own healthcare. The quality of care they receives depends on the financial situation of the parents. 

Moreover, in the unfortunate situation of losing a child, parents cannot rely on the support of an emergency fund if their circumstances never allowed them to build one.

So, it’s important to understand the various factors and inequalities that come into play and affect the whole family.

Let’s delve into the issue a little deeper and answer questions like:

  • Is there a link between income levels and health? Can poor health itself lead to poverty?
  • Is a child born in a poor household more likely to fall sick or have poor health? 
  • Why do the poor have little savings or no proper insurance cover? Is life insurance recommended for children?

Why the poor lack savings.

Why is it difficult to maintain an emergency fund when you’re poor? There are multiple aspects to consider.

Wealth inequality and health inequality (unequal levels of personal health and access to healthcare) work in tandem to make it harder to save; rather they sometimes increase poverty. This is because income inequality is strongly correlated with health inequality. Both of which ultimately means less money to save at the end of the day. Let’s explore the different dimensions of the issue.

Poor people are likely to be in worse health in the first place.

Furthermore, poor health means more expenses in healthcare (lesser savings).

A person in the poorest counties of America is…

…9% more likely to be suffering from high blood pressure…

…13% more likely to be suffering from arthritis…

…15% more likely to have general poor health…

…than individuals belonging to more affluent counties. (Source)

These results should not surprise you. While health problems affect us all, the burden is not distributed equally, and we can see it around us every day.

Treatment for these chronic diseases eats into all of our savings – imagine now if you had very little saved to start.

Lack of Preventive Healthcare

Additionally, preventive healthcare is simply unaffordable if you are poor. Even a single doctor’s visit becomes a challenge when living paycheck to paycheck. Include the costs of specialists, lab tests or emergency visits and good healthcare quickly gets out of reach. Private healthcare is still too expensive for many to afford. 

This puts people in dire circumstances, if any serious medical condition goes undetected in its initial stages. As when it finally surfaces, it is generally too late. If treatment is possible, it is very costly.

Disparities in access to quality medical care.

Moreover, neighborhoods with low-income often don’t have access to the best hospitals. Lack of doctors, better equipped medical facilities, and affordable (quality) healthcare  nearby is a big problem in these areas

That’s not all. The nature of work you do also determines your well-being and health.

How poor working conditions add to Health Disparity.

One, if you are poor, you are less likely to afford higher education that would lead to high paying jobs like IT, banking, or medicine. It is harder to upskill or switch careers as you need time to upskill but at the same time can’t leave or compromise in your current job.

Two, quality of work and life can vary greatly with the kind of job you have. If your job is labor-intensive, it can lead to physical ailments like joint pain, back problems, etc. besides the mental fatigue. 

Less advantaged workers are more prone to exploitation and physically dangerous work. (Source) This again leads to more long term expenses and makes it harder to save/invest.

This also brings us to the second dimension of health and poverty.

Poor Health can itself lead to poverty.

Physical ailments from labor-intensive jobs add to increased healthcare costs. Stress of unemployment, job insecurity, food insecurity, etc results in mental health issues. Which adds to mental health treatment costs. All of these require money which comes from working. It’s a vicious cycle.

Repeatedly facing difficulties just to subsist and survive can affect adversely mental attitudes and shatter self-esteem. But, in poverty, seeking professional help becomes a luxury not all are able to afford. Some seek temporary refuge in drugs and alcohol and end up addicted compounding their financial woes.

Why are many Americans uninsured?

Only slightly more than half of American adults carry life insurance for themselves.

  • Many Americans don’t have access to insurance coverage through a job. 
  • Some people, especially poor adults in states that did not expand Medicaid, remain ineligible for financial assistance for coverage.
  • In 2019, 73.7% of uninsured adults said that they were uninsured because the cost of coverage was too high. (Source)
  • Increasing number of Americans risking going without health insurance due to rising premiums.

Debate around life insurance for children

Life insurance for children is not recommended by many financial “experts” (Source[1] [2]). 

 While arguments have been made on both sides of the issue, the mainstream financial advice touts that there is no need for children to be insured because death of a child is very unlikely. This naturally leads to many families not considering it a necessary investment.

If middle class families with some money to spare don’t consider it a feasible investment, how can poor people – who struggle to meet their needs of food, rent, and shelter on a daily basis – feel justified in buying a life insurance policy for their child? They tend to rely on the mainstream advice, which is against life insurance policies for children. Leaving children without coverage in case a tragedy happens.

Even the middle class is at risk.

People from the middle income bracket generally try to save and get insurance coverage for these unexpected costs. But, even the average middle class family is just one emergency away from abject poverty.

Moreover, navigating the insurance landscape in America is tricky. In a lot of cases, people do not do proper research and take the wrong insurance policies which do not cover everything they need. This results in getting their insurance claims denied. 

Even those with savings are often left helpless as healthcare expenses add up quickly. So, after a single medical treatment, they are left without any money for their dreams; essentially pushed to the brink of poverty.

Why does insurance matter?

Uninsured people are less likely to receive preventive health care which in turn means major diseases go undetected. Lack of insurance coverage means that uninsured people might go without needed medical care. This means higher costs in the end. 

In 2019, 10.2% of uninsured children went without needed care due to cost compared to less than 1% of children with private insurance. 

Moreover, 20% of uninsured children had not seen a doctor in the past year compared to 3.5% for both children with public and private coverage. (Source)

Final Words

1 in 6 children live in poverty in the US – they are the poorest age group. They are also the most uninsured group of the population. We have seen how this leads to higher child mortality rates.

Furthermore, in the face of the tragic loss of a child, exorbitant funeral costs add to the burdens of families in bereavement. Their grief is compounded by financial anxieties and unpreparedness resulting from inhumane and systemic failures at different levels. 

Thus, changes are needed at policy-making levels to reduce child mortality and also to provide assistance in the unfortunate case of losing a child. 

But, until that happens, grieving parents should get the help they need. And, that’s exactly the goal behind the formation of The Henzi Foundation.

Together each one of us can make a difference. We humbly ask you to support our efforts to spare grieving families the burden of funeral expenses. Each small contribution adds to The Frankie Fund and goes a long way in providing financial relief to parents who can’t afford to bury a child.

This year, take a minute to donate and spread a little of your light to those in their darkest hours.