River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 08 2012

Money Trail: How Poverty Limits Opportunity

Certain segments of the population are fond of citing irresponsibility and poor choices as the primary driver behind the lack of opportunity for poor households. A few months ago, one article began claiming that people didn’t need welfare because they had microwaves and TVs! Often, the general public takes such claims at face value because they don’t have a good sense for whether these paradoxical narratives are accurate. Programs such as Teach For America and City Year are beneficial to society in part because they can potentially create a forum for authentically telling the stories of low-resourced communities. Ideally, we would be able to hear success stories directly from corps members who persevered despite challenging backgrounds like their students; moreover, TFA, City Year and other similar programs can help participants from dissimilar backgrounds learn the truth about their students’ families, ultimately coming to understand that people living in poverty aren’t actually freeloading leeches as some pundits prefer to claim. 

With that in mind, I wanted to pass along this graphic courtesy of NPR and GOOD News that helps demystify the way American’s of different income levels spend their money. Overall, we spend in striking similar ways, which for me is refreshing to see. However, the major differences are in spending on Education and Savings for Retirement. According to this data, the wealthy spend over FIVE times more on retirement savings than the lowest bracket and nearly TWICE as much as the middle class. Moreover, families earning more than $150,000 annually spend 4.4% of their money on education expenses compared to less than 1.5% for families earning less than $70,000 annually. I would be interested to see these numbers broken down in greater detail, but this chart alone illustrates how a lack of financial resources can limit opportunity for families of lesser means- not because they are spending money on fancy fridges.

Relatedly, check out this clever video about Money and Politics below.

http://thehill.com/video/campaign/242785-romney-girl-ad-attempts-to-replicate-obama-girls-success

9 Responses

  1. Um

    You do realize that these percentages don’t do anything much to support your claim, right? Families earning more than %150k annually won’t qualify for most scholarships in college or for free tutoring services and “Education” is a broad category. College tuition is expensive. Tutoring is expensive. Spending less money on education doesn’t mean less access. That would be the same as saying something as absurd as “low income families have greater access to hot water than wealthy family because they spend nearly 2 1/2 times more on their utilities.”

    • ” ‘Education’ is a broad category. College tuition is expensive. Tutoring is expensive. Spending less money on education doesn’t mean less access. ”

      -I agree with your points, which is why I’d like to see how much things such as college tuition skew the numbers. Regardless, having surplus money to spend on high quality tutoring and perhaps private schools would help the kids of wealthier families whereas poorer families don’t have those same options. Also, I wonder how debt/loans figure in to the data. Overall, we can still glean that wealthier households have a greater ability to pay for supplemental education services.

      • Um

        Wealthier households have a greater ability to pay for everything. They take better vacations, drive better cars, have nicer clothes, and pantries stocked with luxury food items. However, I’m still wary of using private expenditures as a yardstick for proving better quality. Eating caviar doesn’t mean you’re better fed. The fact, however, that you have money to spend on caviar probably indicates that you aren’t struggling to pay rent or put gas in your car. It doesn’t, however, follow that not eating caviar means you aren’t eating well.

        Wealthy families are more likely to be able to afford private school, but until somebody can explain to me why we spend more to imprison people than we do to educate them, I’m not really seeing poverty as the primary problem.

        If it were just an issue of money, then a state like NY that spends over $18,000 per year for public students should be able to match a private school education that costs the same (or less) but provides a far superior education in a far superior school environment.

        As for being “freeloading leeches,” I do think there’s a problem with having cable TV, cell phones, cars, dining out, and/or a stay-at-home parent (by choice) and then crying poverty. That’s not poverty. That’s a choice.

        • It’s not about how much you can spend it’s about the comfort and security of having money. Poverty IS the primary problem because of the way it damages social structures as well as COGNITIVE capacities.

          “until somebody can explain to me why we spend more to imprison people than we do to educate them, I’m not really seeing poverty as the primary problem.” – umm, but that IS the problem. If we spent that prison money upfront early and often, we wouldn’t have to waste dollars on rehabilitation.

          It’s not about what spend but how you spend it. Clearly.

          As for being “freeloading leeches,” I do think there’s a problem with having cable TV, cell phones, cars, dining out, and/or a stay-at-home parent (by choice) and then crying poverty. That’s not poverty. That’s a choice.
          -try this game (http://playspent.org/) this is my main point. It’s lazy to paint a picture of all lower income families as having all these things. I’m not saying there aren’t irresponsible people, but it’s lazy to claim they all are.

  2. G

    “As for being “freeloading leeches,” I do think there’s a problem with having cable TV, cell phones, cars, dining out, and/or a stay-at-home parent (by choice) and then crying poverty. That’s not poverty. That’s a choice.”

    This…exactly. That’s called poor budgeting and/or living beyond one’s means. That’s not poverty.

    • Again, check this out. http://playspent.org/

      What, by your defintion, is considered poverty? I’m curious because I know it’s different to different people.

    • CY

      I’m sorry, you can’t be poor if you have a car or a cell phone? That’s just a ridiculous statement. Neither of those are luxuries today. Additionally, high-quality child care is expensive. It can be more cost-effective for many (especially the under-educated) to stay at home with their children instead of pay to have a qualified care giver watch them.

      I’ll give you cable and dining out. Unless you mean eating fast food. Because that’s much cheaper than buying fresh produce. So let’s just keep the poor unhealthy while we are talking about ways for them to save money.

    • A fascinating topic but one frgahut with all kinds of political barriers. Having spent a career in education and having been a principal of schools in privileged areas as well as underachieving, needy areas, I saw first-hand the advantages of privilege and money. Even a decade ago, we were able to have a gala fundraiser and in one night raise enough money to fully refurbish a computer lab in an already-advantaged school. Meanwhile, the bake sales and other fund-raising attempts in needy schools would fetch barely enough money to buy a single computer. This was not and is not fair to children who deserve opportunities to learn despite their economic conditions. Busing and the integration it implies may be the long term answers, but the immediate do-able strategies involve resourcing schools adequately. The great equalizer in our system of education is the school board (and through them, the Province) whose obligation must be to ensure that needy schools are resourced amply with talented staff and up-to-date materials.

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Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

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