What does it mean to be poor in America?
Submitted by Kathy_Tracey on July 5, 2018 - 7:59pm
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Recently, I finished Matthew Desmond's book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City and I think the conversation is both important and relevant in adult education. Below are a few powerful passages:
- "Evictions... [embroil] not only landlord and tenants but also kin and friends, lovers and ex-lovers, judges and lawyers, dope suppliers and church elders. Eviction's fallout is severe. Losing a home sends families to shelters, abandoned houses, and the street. It invites depression and illness, compels families to move into degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods, uproots communities, and harms children. Eviction reveals people's vulnerability and desperation, as well as their ingenuity and guts."
- "If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out."
- "Poverty could pile on; living it often meant steering through gnarled thickets of interconnected misfortunes and trying not to go crazy. There were moments of calm, but life on balance was facing one crisis after another."
- "The persistence and brutality of American poverty can be disheartening, leaving us cynical about solutions. But ... a good home can serve as the sturdiest of footholds. When people have a place to live, they become better parents, workers, and citizens."
As we often work with adult education students who are in the most vulnerable stages of their life, facing substandard housing or homelessness. In a 2001 study, Attitudes Toward the Poor and Attributions for Poverty, author's Cozzarelli, Wilkinson, and Tagler state that "Americans believe there are multiple determinants of poverty but that individualistic or 'internal' causes are more important than external causes." Basically, we recognize there are systemic issues that cause poverty but we expect an individual to 'overcome' these barriers and move toward self-sufficiency.
So, what does all of this mean for adult education? How do we maintain or mission of increasing literacy and numeracy skills of adults when they are struggling with poverty? How do we design effective programming when students are dealing with income inequity?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on how we aid students in these situations.