How many students are living in poverty?


The way journalism works: Roughly 315 million people live in the U.S.

Given that fact, you’d think a recent report in Education Week simply couldn’t exist.

The piece, which was written by Sarah Sparks, concerns the rising number of American children who are living in poverty. It starts like this, headlines included:
SPARKS (10/23/13): Poor Children Are Now a Majority in 17 States' Public Schools
Study finds poverty rising in every state since 2000

Nearly half of all American public school students now live in poverty, and in broad swaths of the South and Southwest, state supports have not kept pace with significant and rapidly rising majorities of poor students in classrooms, a new report finds.
Could that possibly be true, we wondered, if only for a brief moment. Could it be true that nearly half of American students are now living in poverty?

We were fairly sure it wasn’t true. Beyond that, we figured we probably knew what Sparks must have in mind.

Sure enough! As the piece continued, this is what it said:
SPARKS (continuing directly): In 17 states spanning nearly all of the South, Southwest, and West Coast, a majority of public school students qualified for free or reduced-price meals in 2011, according to the analysis released last week by the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation.
Gack! You don’t have to be living in poverty to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch! The eligibility cut-off is approximately two times the poverty level.

The average person would have no reason to know that. But this report appeared in Education Week, the journalistic Bible for American teachers. Theoretically, we have journalists to straighten such matters out!

In a rational world, it would be hard to believe that such an error could appear in such a journal. But you don’t live in a rational world. You live in a post-journalistic dystopian large mega-mess.

The breakdown isn’t confined to Fox and Salon. As Sparks continued, she just kept compounding her howler:
SPARKS (continuing directly): That's up from four states in 2000, and the study found all states have seen a rapid rise in student poverty during the last decade. Thirty-six states now have statewide poverty rates of more than 40 percent in schools. Mississippi's rate now tops 70 percent.

That deepening poverty likely will complicate already-fraught political discussions on how to educate American students, as prior research has shown students are significantly more at risk academically in schools with 40 percent or higher concentrations of poverty.

"Once you get above a majority of students in poverty, it becomes increasingly difficult to deal with the problems they've got, and increasingly those problems come to define the direction of the whole school," said Steve T. Suitts, the vice president of the foundation and the author of the study.

Urban areas in every part of the country now have majorities of students in poverty, from 54 percent in Western cities to 71 percent in the Northeast. But nationwide, two out of five students in the suburbs also are poor. In the South and West, the share is closer to half.
Two out of five students in the suburbs are living in poverty! If the suburb is in the west, the ration is more like half.

According to Sparks, the author of the new study was shocked by what he found. We were shocked by the author of the new study:
SPARKS (continuing directly): Mr. Suitts said he found it "stunning" that three out of every four districts in 15 states across the southern half of the country now have at least 50 percent of their students living in poverty—and often much more. "That pretty well means there's no place you can get away" from concentrated poverty, Mr. Suitts said.
Suitts is stunned, and we are too. Within our broken culture, it isn’t just the journalists who cluelessly wander the land. It’s also the people at our foundations, the ones who conduct our research!

There are roughly 315 million people in the United States. One of those people, Sparks’ editor, let this groaner pass.



  2. OMB ( Let them Eat Squadoosh)

    Those who doubt BOB's liberalism might want to bookmark this little post.

    It seems the BOBster wants to fry the reporters and editors of Education Week for their improper use of the word "poverty". That may be because it fits his narrative of our current irrational world defined, in BOBolese, as a "post-journalistic dystopian large mega-mess." He adds to his blog frying pan the foundation nand its researchers who did the report upon which the Education Week is based.

    Too bad BOB did not read the report from the Southern Education Foundation. It does not make the semantic error of Education Week,
    Instead of "poverty" it correctly uses the term "low income."

    But one might want to consider BOB's conduct in skewering the Education Week staff, correctly, for their impromper terminology, and the Southern Education Foundation, erroneously.

    Here is a blogger who reportedly cares about the acheivement gap in our schools. In fact, in his famous post skewering a Professor Gordon for not knowing "Squat from Squadoosh" BOB noted:

    ".. Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnoy have argued that the 2009 PISA tested too many low-income American students, producing an unrepresentative national sample."

    And how did Carnoy and Rothestein define "low income." Why by participation in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. In fact, this is the standard way researchers look at issues of poverty in schools.

    " Researchers often use free or reduced price lunch (FRPL) enrollment figures as a proxy for poverty at the school level, because Census poverty data (which is used at the state and district level) is not available disaggregated below the school district level and is not collected annually. Accordingly, annual FRPL data is regularly used within school districts to determine a school’s eligibility for Title I funds. It is also used as a proxy for low-income status when determining whether a subgroup of needy students is making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind."

    Oh, and note this cavalier statement: "Gack! You don’t have to be living in poverty to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch! The eligibility cut-off is approximately two times the poverty level."

    Approximately? This from the blogger who complains when journalists don't tell us numbers in studies? It is 165% BOB. Approximately two times is 200% plus or minus a number when, if used by Amanda Ripley
    you would call "silly." How much is that in dollars, BOB?

    BOB also fails to tell you that eligibility for free lunch is dependent in large part upon parent application, and this falls off dramatically in middle and high school years. Those fine, hard working but lower income Tea Party types Bob counsels us to speak of kindly and their kids may not want to be seen taking government handouts, particularly at the higher levels of income eligibility.

    We hope BOB, in future posts, will clearly define his income levels when he tosses in words like poor, low income, and poverty. And when he does, Zarkon will proudly applaud him and tghen calim credit for getting results! Like BOB when he trumpets Howler triumphs, will of course be joking.


    1. Hmmmm, 165 percent becomes "approximately 200 percent."

      Close enough for Somerby, I suppose. But of course, were Rachel Maddow to make such a careless error, Bob would go on about it for weeks without end.

    2. Anonymous @ 8:58

      People on this blog who call me a troll for my comments rarely have a single act to offer in response to them other than to call me a name and/or call for me to be banished. Your response indicates that you have no quarrel with my points but dislike that I choose to differ with the blogger. So either you agree with me on the facts or lack the intellect to refute them. It is that simple.


    3. "BOB also fails to tell you that eligibility for free lunch is dependent in large part upon parent application, and this falls off dramatically in middle and high school years."

      Well, KZ, you can take heart that one of Bob's new tribalists, Lionel, has inadvertantly supported your point:

      "My family had a very low income but my parents would have been ashamed to fill out a reduced price lunch form for us."

      Let them eat store brand peanut butter and day old bread instead!

    4. KZ, Bob was criticizing Sparks and Education Week, not the Southern Education Foundation. What does it matter if Bob read that report, or not, since they weren't the topic?

      At no point does Mr. Somerby criticize the SEF, so, when you say he does so "erroneously," you smell like turd.

      If Sparks had used the term "low income," he'd have been on firm ground.

      Further, the eligibility is 185%, not 165%, according to this Federal document:

      So, no, you make no valid point at all, unless you want to fight that 185% is too far from 200% to call "approximately" double.

    5. Seems to me that if you were living at 185 percent of the poverty level, 200 percent would be a nice raise.

      But let's not quibble when Bob is "approximate" and vague. Let's instead, in our middle class comfort, quibble over the difference between "poverty" and "low income."

    6. No kid starves if their parents have store brand peanut butter (probably made by the same factory that makes a brand name peanut butter and delicious) and day old bread on hand.

      And they can hold their heads up. Thats important.

      The few kids whose parents are such sh*ts they won't send the kid to school with a sandwich - in elementary school! - should not be masked by giving free lunch to all or most all. Theres more and worse going on in that house than just not feeding the kids.

      If anyone really cared about the kids and not just patting themselves on the back and sniping at other people who are not responsible for hungry kids. Its the parents, only the parents, and they are abusive parents if they won't feed their kids.

    7. JoshSN. I apologize for not returning to this post to see your reply earlier than this.

      First, I did err in stating the eligibility level for reduced lunch at 165% instead of 185% Bad eyesight when looking at my data source. My point however, was in reference to BOB's frequent attacks on journalists for using "approximately" or "a majority" or "more" in their work when the actual figure is available. Note for the record that I do acknowledge the error and stand corrected, something BOB does less often than St. Rachel. Now we will see how you do on that front.

      Your first two paragraphs concern my criticism of BOB for not reading the report before criticizing its author. You state BOB did not criticize the author or the foundation.

      "At no point does Mr. Somerby criticize the SEF, so, when you say he does so "erroneously," you smell like turd" you wrote.

      Here is what BOB wrote:

      "According to Sparks, the author of the new study was shocked by what he found. We were shocked by the author of the new study:....

      Suitts is stunned, and we are too. Within our broken culture, it isn’t just the journalists who cluelessly wander the land. It’s also the people at our foundations, the ones who conduct our research!"

      Perhaps you missed that because your head was up your ass trying to familiarize yourself with what turd smells like.

      And if you want more of that shit BOB is shoveling check out his post on humanities today. He attacks the foundation and the author of the report again.

      I appreciate you linking me to the USDA site. I will now link you to a US Department of Education site where they use exactly the same term "poverty" to define schools that the reporter for Education Week used. And guess what they use as the basis for defining the level of poverty in a school:
      Eligibility for Participation Free and Reduced Lunch. I agree Education Week should have used a different term, but it did not come out of nowhere as BOB, the champion of the disaggregated poor students, would allow his readers to believe.


    8. I see. I didn't read that last passage the way you did. I read it as if the journalist was shocked by what he read, and Bob was feigning the same shock, as if he had read the same thing from the report.

      That some other report uses "poverty" for "up to 185% of the the poverty level doesn't mean it is correct. It's hardly a big crime, in any event.

    9. KZ, funny you mentioned that Humanities article. I didn't go to Bard, but Leon Botstein was the President of my college.

  3. The mistake in part emanates from assuming that government programs make sense. The school lunch program was justified by pointing to all the parents who (supposedly) are too poor to provide lunch for their kids. Because a PB&J sandwich and a piece of fruit is so cheap, it's a natural mistake to assume that people on the school lunch program must be very poor indeed.

    Of course, the reality is that this program has been expanded far beyond those who truly need it.

    1. David, try living on 165 percent of the federal poverty level before you judge others, OK?

      And before you shoot your mouth off about the poor working hard enough, these are the people who pick up your garbage every week, make your beds in hotel rooms, fix and serve your meals in restaurants, empty your bedpans in hospitals, and work the cash registers at stores you shop in.

      In short, they'll work harder before noon on Monday than you will all week.

    2. There are school districts where no documentation is required to get free or reduced price lunch.

      Very few parents are such sh*ts that they won't provide bread and peanut butter or cream cheese for the kids to take a lunch to school and cereal and milk for breakfast. A jar of peanut butter on sale, store brand, is $1.50. A loaf of good bread on the day old rack is $1.50 - thats at least ten sandwiches for $3 total.

      My family had a very low income but my parents would have been ashamed to fill out a reduced price lunch form for us. Now, its so common that its the norm and thats a shame.

    3. Well, AnonymousOctober 30, 2013 at 7:31 PM, I lived on less than that. As a graduate student, my wife, daughter and I lived on a fellowship of around $200/month for a couple of years, from 1966 to 1968.

      I don't dispute that the people you mention work hard and are deserving. However, IMHO the school lunch program is an inefficient way to support those people who really are too poor to feed their children. In fact, given the existence of the Food Stamp program, the School Lunch program ought to be abolished. Unfortunately, few if any government programs get abolished, even when they're no longer needed.

    4. Right. You're last experience with poverty was as a graduate student 45 years ago. And of course, that was your only source of income. You didn't have a teaching gig as a graduate student, your wife didn't work outside the home, and you still managed to have a daughter.


      Now if you can't think of a more efficient way to feed children rather than the lunch hour at school, well . . . since you are such a champion of "food stamps", I'm sure you railed when the House GOP cut billions from the program.

    5. Who is responsible for children "living in poverty" in the US? Their own parents.

      No doubt about it, the children would be better off if that simple truth, which everyone really believes, was what everyone said out loud.

      All the goodie 2 shoes patting themselves on the back for how much they want to take from OTHER people and give to the "poor children" are doing the poor children a lot of harm.

  4. Bob, these post are magnificent, just magnificent. I am deeply grateful and you are invaluable.


  5. Schools provide free (or reduced price) lunches and breakfasts because children learn better when they are not hungry. They are better able to focus their attention and concentrate. It doesn't matter why they are not eating. What matters is that schools are more effective when students are properly fed. The schools are doing their job. Parents do not see the direct connection between learning and food because they pack a lunch, give it to a child, and never see the results (which occur at school not at home). Nagging parents to give students better food is less effective than simply feeding them. So, the issue is not income level but education.

    Some parents with very high income levels undermine their children's education. They do things like taking kids out of school at a whim, for example to go skiing or travel, without thinking about how missing a day here and a day there interrupts learning and interferes with a teacher's lesson plans. They adopt silly beliefs about vaccination and do not get their kids vaccinated, so the kids missing several weeks due to entirely preventable illness (and pass those illnesses on to other kids). They fail to coordinate busy lives with nannies and spouses and leave kids stranded when they do not sign permission slips for field trips, don't monitor completion of science fair projects, or take their kids out of school every other week because they are "sharing" custody after a divorce. Parents can fail to support schools when they are wealthy, just as much as when they do not have the money to provide better lunches, or are not around in the morning to make lunches because they work two or three jobs in order to keep ahead of that poverty level.

    1. When you tell parents they are not responsible for something as basic as food, you've interfered in a bad way.

      Be great if people with kids didn't divorce but thats not something public policy can deal with. People who take kids out of school to go on ski trips aren't in the same league with parents who don't take responsibility for their kids not being hungry! Lord.

  6. The thing which is really disturbing is how poverty is rising. From other sources, the rise of inequality seems to be indisputable. Sparks dramatizes this with some claims that are technically dubious - those who get school lunches are not poor according to the official definition. The general rise in inequality since around 1965 is one thing, and the cutback in school budgets since the recession started is another - expenditures by local governments have barely stopped falling even now. I say it's a good idea for there to be federal assistance for schools in any way. It would be even better if there were more money for this from taxes on rich people and corporations.

    What we know is that poverty is too high and it has been rising - it is important to make people fully aware of this. Is Bob really helping with his carping?

    1. No.

      If you cannot afford to feed and otherwise care for a child, you shouldn't have a child. Whats hard about that? Seriously, why does anyone think there are people in the US who are just incapable of figuring out something that basic?

      Yeah, we're going to have more and more "income inequality" if people have children they cannot afford to support but its surely their own decision and their own responsibility.

  7. NPR reports that the official definition of "poverty" excludes many government benefits:

    Consider the case of Ann Valdez. She's a 47-year-old single mom who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn with her teenage son. She doesn't have a job. She gets a cash payment of about $130 every two weeks from the government. That's all that's counted for her income in the government's poverty measure.

    But Valdez also gets $367 a month in food stamps. The government pays $283 a month for her apartment, which she says would rent for $1,100 or so on the open market. And the government pays for her health care, through Medicaid.

    So, ramping up these programs doesn't reduce the number of people reported as "living in poverty."

    1. Well at least she's not in college. Thats the latest wrinkle, welfare mothers in college, they're all in college. Whether they get student loans or the taxpayers pay outright, they are not going to be the ones who pay for the college bills.

  8. It goes without saying that bringing up children and getting education is a great challenge. It is not the easiest times for the family but, you always have a hope that later your life will become better and your kids will have everything. As a rule, such moms have also a job and they have nearly no time. When I realized that I am too irritated and my children suffer, I applied to British Essay Writer Online and devoted time to my sweet hearts instead. Now I am thinking about an online course as it seems that we waste our life being constantly in a hurry.

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