Poverty for Theories on Thursday

Today's topic, Poverty, is less theory and more research based.  It is also part of a two-part blog post which will be continued on March 23rd.  With such a huge topic, where to begin?  How about we contemplate eye-opening and disheartening facts about poverty?

(Thanks, little O, for making the US seem brighter.)
Poverty facts
  • The current poverty threshold for a family of two adults and two children is a touch over $22,000 according to the US Census Bureau.
  • From the same report, Blacks and Hispanic families experience higher rates of poverty compared to White and Asian/Pacific Islander families - almost 2:1.
  • Guess which age group experiences the most poverty?  Sadly, our children, ages 18 and younger.
  • According to a recent 60 minutes episode (see video below) and other sources, the US is reporting the most homeless children since the Great Depression.  How many of your students live in homeless shelters or short-term housing like motels?  How does homelessness affect teaching and learning?
  • Did you know some writers are calling the current generation of students the "Motel Generation" because of the increased level of homeless/houselessness?
  • 20.5 million school-aged students qualify for FARMs (Free and Reduced Meals), which is a cheerless 42.9% of our school-aged population (according to the National Center for Educational Statistics).
  • Which areas report the highest number of students who are in need of FARMS?  Washington, DC, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  With regret, all states have a portion of kids who qualify for FARMs.  Maryland has 33.5% of its school-aged population, California has 52% and the-land-of-my-soul, Colorado, 34.8% - Leave no state behind, it seems.....
  • The "new" poor of the 21st century is not limited to just kids.  The elderly, working families and married-couple families comprise the new poor of this century.  And yes, I did say "working" families.  Evidently, the current minimum wage of $7.25 isn't cutting it.  By the way, I just did the math for two working adults who work 40 hours a week at minimum wage (and deducted 1/3 for taxes).  Their weekly income (after taxes) would be $191/adult.  That translates to $19,864 a year for a family with two working adults - this is below the poverty threshold as reported in bullet #1.  No wonder some high school students drop out of school to gain full-time employment.
  • Poverty has socio-emotional effects.  Many students report feeling "embarrassed" about their lack of food, clothing, and shelter.  Some students also believe it is their fault their family is in poverty (e.g.:  "I am one more mouth to feed....").  Students report studying by flashlight (when the electricity is turned off) or sleeping in their family's car when a motel is too expensive. For educators, how does a student's socio-emotional state affect teaching and learning?
  • If you know Abraham Maslow's work and his Hierarchy of Needs, right now you are thinking, "Oh no!  I've got students with considerable foundational needs."  And yes, I just linked to Wikipedia for Maslow's work.  If you look at the hierarchy below, you can see how the first two foundational levels, at a minimum, are affected by poverty. 

For those of you who like news shows like, 60 minutes, this 60 minute segment inspired today's post.  It originally aired on March 6th, 2011.  My husband, P, and I (and even little O) felt the information was startling.

How can we help our students from poverty?  Next week on Wednesday, March 23rd, we will tackle some ideas to consider.  Be thinking of your own ideas and we can share them that day.

Armed with creativity and hope,

PS - For those of you who appreciate statistics and data, the US Census Bureau's collection of data and stats is brimming.  Click here to see their tremendous collection of reports.

PSS - For those of you who feel a call-to-action now, a friend just shared this foundation's mission with me.  If you are in the mid-Atlantic region and have furniture or time to spare, you could make a difference.  Visit A Wider Circle.  Of course, monetary donations are always accepted.


  1. Those numbers are striking. It is so terrible that our kids have to suffer the consequences of circumstances that they do not bring upon themselves. You mentioned the embarrassment that many students feel because of their lack of resources, which brings to mind a student who refuses to fill out a FARMS application despite the fact she misses breakfast and lunch 3 to 4 times a week. Another student I have could potentially pay for lunch, but her family spends their disposable income on the cheerleading team rather than on food. While I initially thought this was a misappropriation of finances, my student and I had a lengthy conversation about how she strongly believed her chances for getting financial aid in college because of her cheerleading made the sacrifice worth out. How unfair is that that some of my students have to pick between a passion and a basic necessity? This was unheard of in the multitude of schools that I attended. What incentives do educators have to provide in order to ensure that our students don't drop-out because of the need to help provide for their families? How can we influence the school system in a way that makes them help build the communities so that families have a "no matter what happens, you have to stay in school" mentality? From a child's perspective, how impractical does it seem to rely on FARMS when you are at school but see that your other family members don't have the same opportunity. The problem seems so much bigger than what a teacher can manage.

  2. Ok so I know you are busy grading finals but I am having a hard time waiting till the 23! I need to know now!
    I try to make, at a minimum, a classroom that is safe, calm and equal for my students. Ideally if they feel they are safe and among people who do not judge them, they will be comfortable to learn and participate and I can be an effective teacher.
    I know you have more pearls to give us....and I am counting down the days!

  3. I agree with Emily, there isn't much I can do, but I do try and make my classroom a safe, and enjoyable place for my students (I always have snacks handy if needed). It breaks my heart to know so many children have such low SES. The children seem less motivated, when in my mind it would be more motivation to beat the odds and turn out on top.
    Lucy A

  4. We have a student in our class, who is currently homeless. I make it a point to check her pencil bag and make sure it's well stocked. I never give her a hard time if homework isn't done. It is, as Lucy said, heartbreaking. Most troubling part for me is that our school is in and upper middle class neighborhood. If we have students experiencing this, then I can only imagine how many are affected in schools that are located in lower SES neighborhoods.

    Meredith L.

  5. This subject is constantly on the news right now and easily brings tears to my eyes just as this post has. Research states that a students socioeconomic status (SES)effects their time management skills, academic success, reading skills, and vocabulary development. It is so important that as educators (or future educators) we are sensitive to our student's home life and do all that we can to better their chances of acquiring a solid education regardless of their SES. Even if that means always having granola bars on hand. A child should never have to worry about where their next meal will come from, especially while in our schools.

  6. It's sad when students have to worry about things such as shelter or food when they are young and should just be kids. Unfortunately this is the reality and we as teachers have to consider these students situation. Research does show that student’s SES effects many areas of a child’s education. Students motivation is strongly effected due to their SES which is extremely heart breaking because motivation is what drives everyone to do their best. Ana V.

  7. One thing I reflected on during my fieldwork for EDU 211 is that sometime it is difficult to know which kids are suffering from poverty. The school where I did my fieldwork study has a uniform policy, which allows all students to come to school properly dressed and ready to learn. However, because they wear uniforms it can be difficult to identify which kids may come from a lower socioeconomic status. I noticed several young ladies and young men with higher end brand shoes and accessories. At first sight, walking through the school, it seemed that most kids came from middle class families. When I discussed the socioeconomic status of the students at the school with the teacher, she indicated that the school has a 50-plus percent rate of free and reduced lunches. She also mentioned that the school was awarded a grant that allows free breakfast to be served to every student in the school. It was surprising to hear the teachers mention that often times the meals the students get at school are the only ones they have all day; a sad, but true reality.
    Patricia L.

  8. It is terrible that poverty has such an effect on a child's ability to learn. We haven't gotten to this chapter but the most important thing to consider with poverty is malnutrition. There are several things malnutrition effects on developement. Cognitive ability can be decreased as well as psychological developement. Poverty contributes to several things that effects the child in learning. Homeless children have a hard time even being about to attend school much less be able to focus once they are. Humans regardless of age have the same needs, Maslow's hierarchy to be exact. When a child is homeless learning math is the last thing they are worried about.

  9. Jo - You are correct, we haven't even begun to mention nutrition yet. But, you are absolutely correct in thinking about the impact of nutrition and diet (or lack of) on learning. Maslow would not be happy with the amount of poverty we are experiencing now in the US - especially in our child population.

    You continue to "get this,"

  10. Jensen's book Teaching with Poverty in Mind was eye opening for me.