This ethnographic study of two low-income suburban communities in Beirut highlights the negative impacts that wider social circumstances can have on the young. The two communities of interest are a Palestinian refugee camp and another community in the suburbs of Beirut where displaced families and daily labourers reside. Using observations and in-depth interviews with residents and key informants in these communities over a period of four months, a research team obtained an inside view of the residents’ experiences. State political and economic policies place restrictions on work and mobility for the Palestinians in Lebanon and allow the religious sects to regulate civil life for the Lebanese. This paper discusses how, as a result of these and other difficult conditions, children and youth face consequences that can include illegal status, dropping out of school, abuse, child labour and substance abuse. Policies to alleviate these outcomes need to address the root causes situated within these structural forces.