Figure 1: Notice only 30% of Americans polled believe a college education is necessary to be a part of the middle class, as opposed to 89% & 86% believe job security and money management skills respectively are essential. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/04/what-americans-say-it-takes-to-be-middle-class/
Figure 1: Notice only 30% of Americans polled believe a college education is necessary to be a part of the middle class, as opposed to 89% & 86% believe job security and money management skills respectively are essential. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/04/what-americans-say-it-takes-to-be-middle-class/

In February 2016, an interesting article came out of the Pew Research Center titled What Americans say it takes to be middle class by Anna Brown.  While respondents to the poll agreed that job security and money management skills are necessary for a person to be included in the American middle class, an unexpected answer was given regarding the necessity of a college education.  Only 30% (see Figure 1) of American adults polled believe that a college education is necessary to be included in the US middle class.  In addition, some recent reports show that the percentage of high school graduates enrolling in college is declining (Norris, 2014).  Meanwhile, the percentage of impoverished students attending public elementary and secondary schools has increased to 51% nation wide, indicating a growing percentage of Americans living in poverty (SEF, 2015).  There seems to be a real disconnect between the perceived objective to gain economic stability in one’s lifetime, and the value placed on the resources (education) available to help achieve that goal.

These statistics beg the follow up questions:

  • How does one achieve job security?
  • How does one learn money management skills?

Poverty affects people across all lines – race, ethnicity, gender, and age – yet is one of the least discussed issues in our classrooms and communities.  Poverty is one of the great levelers of human communities, depriving people of opportunity and resources equitably.  Likewise, education is the greatest leveler of mankind, providing opportunities and access to resources for a lifetime of greater successes.  It is the goal of this website to open the conversation to parents, teachers, students, and community members to discuss the effects poverty has on school performance and development of life-long learning skills.  It is our hope to provide resources, analysis, and supportive materials to those interested in closing the gap between socioeconomic status and education achievement.

Please take the time to answer our poll, and help us provide you with the most useful information and resources.



Brown, A., & Posts. (2016, February 4). What Americans say it takes to be middle class. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/04/what-americans-say-it-takes-to-be-middle-class/

Norris, F. (2015, January 9). Fewer U.S. Graduates opt for college after high school.Business Day. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/26/business/fewer-us-high-school-graduates-opt-for-college.html?_r=0

Southern Education Foundation (2015) A new majority research bulletin: Low income students now a majority in the nation’s public schools. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.southerneducation.org/Our-Strategies/Research-and-Publications/New-Majority-Diverse-Majority-Report-Series/A-New-Majority-2015-Update-Low-Income-Students-Now


A Brief History

Trends in poverty in the United States have fluctuated quite drastically throughout history. In the 1800s, before child labor laws, all members of poor and working class families had jobs. In cities, children and parents alike worked in factories or mines. In rural communities, the entire family helped with crops on the farm. In both situations, children didn’t go to school. What little education they received came from older generation family members, who also had no formal education.

In the late 1920’s, after World War I, at the start of the Great Depression, the “national income dropped by more than 50 percent,” with wage earners losing 60 percent of their income and salary workers losing 40 percent of their income (Collis Greene, p. 28). During this time, poor families fell deeper into poverty. The popular musical Annie portrays a spunky orphan during this era who finds herself falling into a rich family. However, the reality of the situation was that orphans didn’t get adopted by lonely millionaires. In fact, during this time, orphanages not only housed orphans, “but also included a growing number of children whose parents could not care for them” (Collis Greene, p. 28). Living conditions here were not much better than at home. Children were underfed, slept in cramped quarters, and were often beaten. It goes without saying that education during this time was still neglected.

President Roosevelt’s New Deal created federal aid and welfare that helped those in poverty through the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. In 1964, President Johnson declared War on Poverty, and created many offices, acts, and programs like the Economic Opportunity Act or the Office of Economic Opportunity. But what does all this legal talk mean? How do you fight poverty? President Johnson, along with his staff, wanted to “build up job training programs; involve community groups in local rejuvenation efforts; bring legal services into poor communities; and improve the nation’s decaying infrastructures for physical and mental health, proper nutrition and drug treatment” (Abramsky, p. 13). The War on Poverty seemed to have a clear winner: the United States poor. Within ten years of President Johnson’s campaign, the U.S. poverty rate dropped to just 11 percent. Some programs developed during this time are still in effect today. Check out:

Job Corps


Head Start

Today, however, the numbers are much different. According to a recent study, of Americans “between the ages of 25 and 60, 61.8 percent of the population will experience at least one year of poverty” (Rank & Hirschl, p. 8). In today’s society, well over half the population will experience extreme financial struggles that they will be considered to be living in poverty. This can affect nutrition and mental health, living conditions, and even education. In fact, “benefits of economic growth flow up to the wealthiest 5 percent,” leaving 47 million Americans, total, below the poverty line, of which 22.5 percent are kids (Abramsky, p. 14). The study states that those who are “younger, with less education, having a work disability, being not married, nonwhite, and female” all have increased odds of poverty (Rank & Hirschl, p. 9).

But poverty isn’t as easy to combat as it was when President Johnson declared war. Even in Johnson’s time, “more than four out of five Americans…believed [War on Poverty] to be unwinnable” (Abramsky, p.14). This bleak of poverty is even worse today. In today’s society, there is a perception of those in poverty. Before any substantial decline in poverty can happen, these perceptions must change. A popular view is that “poverty and suffering represent individual failures rather than flaws in our political and economic systems” (Collis Greene, p. 26). Other popular perception include the ideas that those in poverty are lazy and would rather benefit from the hard-working middle class, that they are unwilling to better themselves, or that they don’t mind their current living conditions. Even now, there are campaigns to cut benefits like food stamps, limit money allowed for programs like Head Start, and promote drug tests for those applying for welfare and unemployment.

For more information on the stats and numbers in the U.S., check out the United States Census Bureau. As a community and as a nation, we all need to do our part to combat poverty. To find out what you can do, whether you’re a parent, student, or teacher, explore our other sections for ideas and further information.

Poverty: The History of a Measure[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]


Abramskey, S. (2014). The battle hymn of the War on Poverty. Nation, 298(5), 12-17.

Collis Greene, A. (2016). The real Depression. Christian Century, 133(5), 26-31.

Rank, M.R., & Hirschl, T.A. (2015). The likelihood of experiencing relative poverty over the life course. Plos One, 10(7), 1-11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0133513