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Poverty in America

Dawn Stracener,                        

Course Description

One-in-seven adults and one-in-five children in the United States live in poverty. Individuals and families living in poverty not only lack basic, material necessities, but they are also disproportionately afflicted by many social and economic challenges. Some of these challenges include the increased possibility of an unstable home situation, inadequate education opportunities at all levels, and a high chance of crime and victimization. Given this growing social, economic, and political concern, various experts work to develop policy proposals confronting the various challenges of America's poorest citizens, and to introduce innovative approaches to addressing poverty. When combined, the scope and impact of these proposals has the potential to vastly improve the lives of the poor. The main areas of focus include promoting early childhood development, supporting disadvantaged youth, building worker skills, and improving safety net and work support. But will these potential solutions work in a country where many suffer from generational poverty; lack of basic resources; and at a time when many local, state, and national budgets limits are at risk of severe cuts? This seminar will explore how the purposes and origins of poverty have created institutions and policies that try to construct meanings of equity.

Using insights from multiple disciplines such as sociology, political science, business, history, and ethnographical studies, students will critique the poverty policies in America. Seminar participants will investigate how current policies have been constructed by politicians and social/banking institutions within the framework of complex and diverse communities. Students will answer the following essential question: How is class equity possible in the 21st century? In order to answer this question and justify their critiques, students will give presentations on the history of poverty in the US, engage in discussions based on assigned texts, and complete a Participatory Action Research project which will include both academic materials from various disciplines and field based research. This final project will include an action plan to offer possible policy changes to how the face of poverty can change in America.

Readings and Texts

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America; Kathryn J. Edin and Luke Shaefer 
ISBN # 978-0544303188 
Poverty in America: A Handbook; John Iceland 
ISBN # 978-0520276369 
The Undeserving Poor: America’s Enduring Confrontation with Poverty; Michael Katz; ISBN # 978-0199933952 
Participatory Action Research, Alice McIntyre 
ISBN # 978-1412953665 
“Is everyone really equal?” An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education; Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo 
ISBN # 978-0807752692 

Other Course Materials: Student generated research materials

Course Fee


Student Requirements

All students are expected to voluntarily and regularly contribute to class discussions. Effective participation is dependent on you keeping up with all the reading assignments. Various short in-class assignments will be given often, i.e. free writes, role play, debates. These assignments are designed to generate class discussions and/or give you a place to start when analyzing texts or doing written assignments. In addition to participation and assigned readings students will also be given the following assignments for assessment: one group presentation which will include an individual 2 page paper; one analytical essay on the assigned readings; and a final participatory action research project and reflection paper.

About the Instructor

Dawn has a PhD. in Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies with a focus on Critical Social Justice Theory in which she examines how institutional discrimination and oppression impact race, class, and gender in society. Her MA is in Modern European history with an emphasis on cultural and gender issues that have shaped modern day Western societies. Dawn’s interests in Participatory Action Research stems from her strong desire to focus on how issues of gender, race, and class define learning environments, create identities, and construct communities by working on public policy changes with the community grass roots organization Families United for Education.