Thirteen Lessons About Poverty: Extend Your Learning (Recommended)

Most people make assumptions about poverty that aren’t entirely accurate. Understanding the subtleties regarding poverty in America today and anticipating what inaccurate assumptions other people might have about poverty in your community, can help you be more effective in your work. You can use the following free resources any time during your service to deepen your own understanding--and to share that understanding with other people.

Income inequality: What we think it is, what we think it ought to be, and what it really is. Income inequality has been increasing dramatically--so much so, that even people who are concerned about income inequality may not realize how big the gaps now are between the richest Americans and the rest of the country. Even those in the middle class aren’t really in the middle in terms of income, and the poor have an increasingly smaller share overall, as the video below shows: .

Where you live can determine whether you can escape poverty. Although we like to believe that America is a land of opportunity in which people who work hard can escape poverty, it is actually much harder to move up depending on where you live, as this comic book-style graphic narrative shows.

Individual stories can help us understand the big issues and challenges relating to poverty. The film The Line was created to raise awareness about poverty. It’s a great example of how to use stories to share information. And it is relevant to nearly all VISTA projects, because it addresses a range of issues: the growth of suburban poverty, the effects of trauma on people living in poverty, the persistence of generational poverty, links between poverty and violence, how environmental factors impact people’s income, and how to maintain hope in hard times. You can watch all 43 minutes online for free, and you can even host a screening for your organization or your community, so that people can watch together and discuss what they learn.

The American Dream may be shrinking for nearly all Americans. It turns out that even during much of the 20th-century, most Americans weren’t really able to move up in terms of class, and in the 21st-century, many Americans will find they aren’t doing as well their parents did, as this article describes. How does the changing outlook for the middle-class shape our understanding of poverty?

Is there a “culture of poverty?” This thoughtful discussion demonstrates what can go awry when scholars try to determine why poverty is so persistent. If you want to understand theories about poverty, and why they aren’t always accurate, this is an insightful read.

Last modified: Friday, March 3, 2017, 1:49 PM