#5: Looking Deeper into How Income Inequality Affects Kids

For this week’s huddle, I decided to zoom in on how income inequality affects children. The effects of income inequality on parents indirectly affect their children in multiple ways. I found that kids in economically-disadvantaged families did worse in school, were less likely to go to college and get a good job, had poorer health, and were more likely to suffer from drug addiction. These findings are prevalent everywhere we look, and I see them everyday in school.

Over one in every five kids in America live in poverty. This number is up over 4% from the 2008 economic recession, from 18% to 22%. This also affects people of color disproportionally. According to a study from the Annie E. Casey foundation, 40% of black children lived in poverty, while 14% of white children live in poverty. The study shows that black, Latino, and Native American people suffer more from the effects of income inequality then white people. Since the economic recession, unemployment rates have fallen, but unemployment rates of black people have actually risen by 2.4%.

In school, I see the effects that having less financial flexibility has on kids. They have less opportunities in school, for one. Often kids can’t afford to do extracurricular activities like sports, music and music lessons, and more. Another big one is not having a phone. Phones are used academically, but what effects kids that don’t have one more is in their social lives. In this day and age, phones and social media are thing kids use all the time to communicate and be social. Kids that don’t have phones are seriously handicapped in not being able to have these same social opportunities.

In the United States, we have relatively low spending on education, especially since the economic recession. Poor children feel the effects of this more then wealthy children, as they often aren’t able to go to college and have worse educations as a result. The public schooling system used to be a form of hope and was seen as a way to escape poverty and more on to a better life. Unfortunately, since most well-paying jobs require a college education that’s too expensive, this is no longer the case. Government funding in the public school system has gone down, and the quality of education has also gone down as a result.

Studies that as a result of a number of factors, kids from low-income families do worse in school. They have lower average scores on tests, were less ready for school, and were much less likely to graduate. So, I wondered, why is this the case? These children are not inherently less smart then children from higher-income families.

This comes from many different reasons. Like I said before, one reason is that parents had less money to invest in their child’s development. Parents spent less on child-enrichment goods and services, such as sports, music, and books. This results in children being less likely to have 10+ books at home, have a musical instrument at home, and do extracurricular activities, which help to increase students’ success. Low-income parents are also likely to be forced to work more hours and have less time to spend with their children. Kids from low-income families were less likely to eat with their mom and dad daily, leave the house 4+ times per weeks, have a parent read to them 3+ times per week, and see their father daily. Kids in wealthy families heard an average of 2,153 words per hour, while kids in poorer families heard 1,251 per hour. The amount of time and money that higher-income parents are able to spend on their children is more then lower-income parents are able to do. This directly contributes to success in school and later on in life.

I’m very interested in this topic and I want to learn more about it. I think the ways that impoverished kids are affected by income inequality is a fascinating and very important issue around the country and here in Vermont. I’m still wondering what I can do to help this problem, but I think narrowing my topic down to youth and education will help. I’m excited to learn more and start to help with this in the coming weeks!

 

 

Finn Wormser
My name is Finn Wormser and I'm from Shelburne. I'm a ninth grader from CVU High School. This is my first time doing the program, but I'm familiar with it through friends and my brother. I love playing sports and watching sports. I play volleyball, basketball, and am going to start ultimate frisbee in the spring. I play the bass and my brother, dad and I like to pretend we're a band. I am very excited to start What's The Story and to learn about a social issue in Vermont.

3 Responses to “#5: Looking Deeper into How Income Inequality Affects Kids

  • “In school, I see the effects that having less financial flexibility has on kids. They have less opportunities in school, for one. Often kids can’t afford to do extracurricular activities like sports, music and music lessons, and more. Another big one is not having a phone. Phones are used academically, but what effects kids that don’t have one more is in their social lives. In this day and age, phones and social media are thing kids use all the time to communicate and be social. Kids that don’t have phones are seriously handicapped in not being able to have these same social opportunities.”

    Finn,
    This passage strikes me as especially meaningful for a couple of reasons. First, you’re describing what you have observed in your school, which provides a context for your thinking and inquiry at this point. Second, you make a point that “kids that don’t have phones are seriously handicapped,” a fact that’s may not be apparent to educators (and others) of my generation.

    Thanks.

  • Hi Finn,

    I appreciate how in focusing specifically on how income inequality impacts youth, you were able to dig into more specifics. I echo Dixie’s comment about being particularly struck by the points you make in the section she quoted. I wonder how schools could work to equalize access to extracurricular activities. There are so many components to this: lack of transportation, money for equipment, the need for lower income students to work during those times, and many other things I’m sure I’m missing. Are there schools that have explicit policies for supporting lower-income youth in having extra-curricular access, or is it just on a case-by-case basis when people notice?

    It would also be interesting to explore the need for smart phones. Many schools (like mine) provide students a personal computer to use during the school day, but as we move to more and more collaborative projects, I wonder how not having a smartphone to communicate and coordinate with peers outside of school hours makes it additionally challenging for lower income students. The lack of access to reliable, high-speed internet at home could be another point of entry into this topic.

    As to your point about the need for college to get a well-paying job, I wonder to what extent programs like VT’s initiative for free 1st year of college for advanced high school students helps lower income students. Are there still economic barriers, such as transportation? I know that some urban areas in other parts of the country have created high-school/early college programs to address these issues and to ensure that motivated students can earn an Associates Degree for free. Would something like that work in VT?

    Looking forward to hearing more at this weekend’s retreat!

    – F

  • Finn, it has been a pleasure to witness your thinking and learning about poverty in Vermont evolve. I think that childhood poverty is a hugely important piece of the puzzle.

    As mentioned by Fallon, inequitable access to transportation is an important issue. This is particularly true in the current moment when schools are trying to implement Act 77. To do personalized learning and flexible pathways well, the walls between schools and communities should dissolve so that students are able to easily access community members and organizations, resources. You are right to point out that relying on students to transport themselves to these opportunities is likely to give rise to inequalities. Some of us have talked about the need for a “Fleet of Vans” that are available to connect students to out-of-school opportunities.

    I love this quote of yours: “These children are not inherently less smart then children from higher-income families.“ That’s such an important point! It’s really the key starting point for investigating poverty with moral purpose. And I love your exploration of some of the blind spots of schools in terms of perpetuating inequities, like transportation needs and technology/devices.

    But I would challenge you to also consider how schooling and schools may be INTENTIONALLY designed to keep inequalities in place. There is a series of questions from a critical perspective along these lines: Who are schools designed for? Who benefits from unequal outcomes? How are students sorted and how might that be predicted by their relationship with poverty? How does the myth of meritocracy operate in schools and society to protect the status quo?

    Once you’ve grappled with those questions yourself, if you would like some concepts to build on for those questions, you may want to explore the idea of a deficit model of schooling. This is basically the idea that if schools start with the premised that they need to “fix” students from marginalized backgrounds, they will miss the assets that those students bring to the table. A related set of ideas can be found in the theory of social capital. Check it out if you want to see where sociology meets philosophy for a critical analysis of class structures. Deep but interesting.

    I’ve really enjoyed seeing your thinking evolve. I look so forward to your finished product. Please let me know if I can be of any help in the mean time.

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