According to Maslow (1987), “If all the needs are unsatisfied, and the organism is then dominated by the physiological needs, all other needs may become simply non-existent or be pushed into the background.


Deficiency needs are common among U.S. children, especially among low-income children. Physiological needs are reflected in rates of childhood poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness.

  • Poverty Rate: Among all children, 44 percent live in low-income families and approximately one in every five (22 percent) live in poor families (Proctor et al., 2016).
  • Food insecurity: Food insecurity refers to disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake, usually due to insufficient money or other resources for food (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory, & Singh, 2017). In 2016, 6.5 million children were living in households with low food security, and 703,000 children lived in households with very low food security (Coleman-Jensen et al., 2017). Nationally, an average of 12.3 percent of households were food insecure. Yet, the prevalence of food insecurity varied among household types. Household with children (16.5 percent), with children under the age of six (16.6 percent), with children headed by a single woman (31.6 percent), with children headed by a single man (21.7 percent), and with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty threshold (31.6 percent) experienced greater rates of food insecurity than the national average (Coleman-Jensen et al., 2017).
  • Homelessness: In 2013, the U.S Department of Education conducted its most recent count of homeless children in U.S. public schools. They found that 2,483,539 children experienced homelessness in the U.S. in 2013. This represents one in every 30 children in the U.S (Bassuk, DeCandia, Beach, & Berman, 2014).

Safety needs are reflected in the number of children coming into contact with violence and the rate of children without access to quality dental care.

  • More than a third of adolescents across the country ages 10 to 16 years are victims of direct violence, including attempted kidnapping and physical and sexual assault, with greater numbers of children coming into contact with indirect, community violence (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2015)
  • Tooth decay is among the most common chronic childhood conditions and can result in pain, heart disease, and other adverse health conditions (Mancini, 2012). According to an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, as many as 4.6 million children were unable to get dental care in 2008 (Mancini, 2012).

Social needs are reflected in rates of child maltreatment.

  • National data shows that nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S annually (National Children’s Alliance, n.d.). According to the 2015 Child Maltreatment Report by the Children’s Bureau of United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, there were 4 million child abuse referral in 2015, up from 3.6 million in 2014 (American Society for the Positive Care of Children, n.d.). In 2015, there were 1,670 child deaths from abuse and neglect (American Society for the Positive Care of Children, n.d.).

The above statistics highlight the prevalence of deficiency needs among U.S. youth. Noltemeyer, Bush, Patton, & Bergen (2012) conducted a study to determine whether these deficiency needs would, in fact, inhibit the ability of youth to become motivated by growth needs, in this case academic achievement. They tested the relationships between deficiency needs variables and growth needs variables (academic achievement outcome variables) for a sample of 390 low-income children and discovered a significant positive relationship, indicating that their physiological, safety, and social needs impacted their ability to achieve their optimal level of functioning in school. The consequences of this relationship are substantial and long lasting. Education is one of the most powerful predictors of child outcomes (Putnam, 2015). By impeding academic performance, deficiency needs affect youths’ future employment opportunities, earning potential, and prevalence of needs.

Maslow believed that all human beings possessed an innate desire to reach self-actualization. However, realistically, many people do not surpass their physiological needs. Deficiency at this fundamental level arises most often out of poverty. When individuals lack the capacity to meet their own needs, in the absence of personal resources, they depend upon the support of those around them to help fulfill their needs in pursuit of growth (Akdere, 2005).

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