A framework for understanding poverty
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A framework for Understanding Poverty. Sheally Engebretson Dr. Kwame Bruce Based on book by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D. Key Points to Remember. Poverty is relative Poverty occurs in all races and in all countries Economic class is a continuous line, not a clear-cut distinction

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A framework for Understanding Poverty

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A framework for Understanding Poverty

Sheally Engebretson

Dr. Kwame Bruce

Based on book by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D.

Key Points to Remember

  • Poverty is relative

  • Poverty occurs in all races and in all countries

  • Economic class is a continuous line, not a clear-cut distinction

  • Generational poverty and situational poverty are different


  • An individual brings with him/her the hidden rules of the class in which he/she was raised

  • To move from poverty to middle class or middle class to wealth, an individual must give up relationships for achievement (at least for some period of time).

  • Two things that help one move out of poverty are education and relationships

  • Four reasons one leaves poverty are: It’s too painful to stay, a vision or goal, a key relationship, or a special talent or skill.

Statistics About Poverty

  • 7.6 million poor families in 2003

  • Foreign-born population in U.S. has increased

  • Poverty is caused by interrelated factors: parental employment status and earning, family structure, and parental education (Five Million Children, 1992)

Definition of Poverty

The extent to which an individual does without resources



  • Financial

  • Emotional

  • Mental

  • Spiritual

  • Physical

  • Support Systems

  • Relationship/Role Models

  • Knowledge of Hidden Rules


“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”

Dr. James Comer

Role of Language and Story

Register of Language: every language in the world has five registers.

  • Frozen

  • Formal

  • Consultative

  • Casual

  • Intimate

Hidden Rules Among Classes

Generally, in America, the notion is recognized for racial and ethnic groups, but not particularly for economic groups.

Characteristics of Generation Poverty

  • Poverty for at least two generations

  • Has its own culture, hidden rules & belief systems

  • Prevailing attitude is that society owes one a living.

Family Patterns in Generational Poverty

  • Family patterns

  • Key roles: fighter/lover, caretaker/rescuer, worker, storyteller, and “keeper of the soul” (i.e., dispenser of penance and forgiveness)



  • “The culture of poverty has some universal characteristics which transcend regional, rural-urban, and even national differences…There are remarkable similarities in family structure, interpersonal relations, time orientations, value systems, spending patterns, and the sense of community in lower-class settlements in London, Glasgow, Paris, Harlem, and Mexico City.”

    Oscar Lewis, Four Horsemen


  • Get mad & quite their job/work

  • Will work hard if they like you

  • Do not use conflict-resolution skills

  • Use survival language

  • Not emotionally reserved when angry

Characteristics cont.

  • Extreme freedom of speech

  • Very independent

  • Time

  • Need emotional warmth

  • Level of integrity

Characteristics cont.

  • Possessiveness

  • “Space”

  • Favoritism

Characteristics: Real Men, Real Women

  • Men socialize with men and women with women

  • A real man is ruggedly good-looking

  • A real woman takes care of her man

Role Models Emotional Resources




Functional and Dysfunctional Systems

Support Systems

  • Coping Strategies

  • Options During Problem-Solving

  • Information and Know-How

  • Temporary Relief from Emotional, Financial, and/or Time Constraints

Support System cont.

  • Connections to Other People and Resources

  • Positive Self-Talk

  • Procedural Self-Talk

    Hidden Rules Among Classes handout

Creating Relationships

  • Students in poverty

  • Emotional Bank (Covey-1889)

Relationship Deposits & Withdrawals


Seek first to understandSeek first to be understood

Keeping promisesBreaking promises

Kindnesses, courtesiesUnkindnesses, discourtesies

Clarifying expectationsViolating expectations

Loyalty to the absentDisloyalty, duplicity

ApologiesPride, conceit, arrogance

Open to feedbackRejecting feedback

Deposits made to individual in poverty

  • Appreciation for humor and entertainment provided by the individual

  • Acceptance of what the individual cannot say about a person or situation

  • Respect for the demands and priorities of relationships

  • Using the adult voice

Deposits cont.

  • Assisting with goal-setting

  • Identifying options related to available resources

  • Understanding the importance of personal freedom, speech, and individual personality


It is our responsibility who work with the poor to teach the differences and skills/rules that will allow the individual to make the choice. As it now stands for many of the poor, the choice never exists.

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