New numbers out this week from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center show that 90,000 Massachusetts children are living in areas of concentrated poverty, for the most part in Boston and in gateway cities like Lawrence and Lynn. Professor Jonathan Zaff is the director of the CERES Institute for Children and Youth at Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education. He spoke with WGBH News’ Arun Rath about the effects of growing up poor. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Arun Rath: For those of us lucky enough to be born on the right side of the tracks, for lack of a better term, I want to get a sense of the lives of the kids we're talking about. Even if things are solid in terms of basic services, say if a child is going to a good public school, getting a solid meal, how is it harder growing up in an impoverished area?

Jonathan Zaff: Sure. What we've heard time and again is really that they’re in what we consider to be risk-immersed situations. And so these are situations where, as you suggest, the schools that they're attending are under resourced. It doesn't necessarily mean that the teachers are any less passionate about teaching the students or that the principals are any less capable, but they do tend to be under-resourced and overwhelmed with things like class sizes and with the ability to do things like make photocopies. In addition, when you look around the neighborhoods, and you think about the types of enrichment programs that are very prevalent around higher-income communities, you find fewer opportunities. Again, these would be things like playing sports, doing arts activities, etc. They're just not as commonplace. The other side of that, though, is the inability to get a good square meal, as you say — that there are food deserts, and that these are places where to get proper nutrition becomes really an adventure.

Rath: You talked about these kids being basically immersed in risk. Can you talk about some more of those environmental factors? If you have a good income and you happen to be in one of these neighborhoods, what are the other things aside from the schools or lack of resources that can bear on that?

Zaff: Right. It's a very good point. It's also important to note that when we talk about concentrated poverty, these are communities that are around 30 percent, at least, of the threshold of families who are living below the poverty line and upwards — in some cases in Massachusetts at 50 percent or higher. But that still means that there are families there who have higher incomes. Even with those higher incomes, though, in addition to not having access necessarily to those opportunities in your own neighborhood, you're also most likely dealing with higher levels of violence in your neighborhood. There are higher likelihoods of growing up around pollutants, which would be bad for your development, your physical development and also your psychological development. So those are just a couple of those factors that regardless of income you'll encounter.

Rath: And how do these kind of things stay with a child as they develop, as they grow up?

Zaff: Money does matter in this case, because money buys access. Money buys peace of mind. What we know is that when young people are growing up in riskier settings and in very stressful settings, that this activates the stress response. And when that stress response is activated for extended periods of time, it can really cause a heavy load on both the physical and psychological well-being of young people and therefore for them as adults. And so you see higher rates of issues of cardiac issues, of cancers, of other physical health problems, as well as higher rates of psychological issues, whether depression, anxieties, etc.

Rath: In terms of addressing this, you said money does matter, and in its report, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center calls for changes to taxes, education funding, public transit, all sorts of things. What do you think would have the biggest impact in fixing these problems we're talking about?

Zaff: There are a few things to keep in mind. So one, I think, is very important. Through all of this, often what gets conflated is this idea of risk and deficit in the individuals themselves. And I think what's important to realize — and we've seen this time and again in our own work — is that the young people living in these communities concentrated in poverty have just as much potential in capacity as those in much more economically advantaged communities. And so that's a reason for hope. Every young person has potential to thrive. We know this from science. And so what we also know is that the capacities of those young people need to be matched with appropriate supports. And so you know, a term now being used a lot is instead of achievement gaps, is really an opportunity gap.

And so how do we close the gap in opportunities so young people have these opportunities to reach their own potential. As Mass. Budget has suggested, one way is through education, and we know that education can be a key driver of economic mobility.

The National Academy of Sciences came out with a report in the past year or so talking about, how do you reduce the level of childhood poverty by half? And they, too, talk about issues of extensions of the child dependent tax credit, of providing other income incentives so that families just have more money that they can use to spend on the support their children need.

Rath: That's Professor Jonathan Zaff. He's the director of the CERES Institute for Children and Youth at Boston University's Wheelock College of Education. He spoke with us about the effects of childhood poverty.