Monday, September 21, 2015


The textbook for my Macro class discusses wealth distribution in one of the first chapters, and in doing so it introduces the term "income quintile," a term which really flummoxes my seniors. When it comes to vocabulary and jargon, they're rigidly literal. I was very interested, therefore, in an article that appeared in The Economist two weeks ago with the ironic title "It's Expensive to be Poor." It features a pretty good example of an income quintile. More importantly, it does a great job highlighting the difficulties that poorer Americans have navigating a financial system that is reluctant to offer fee-free checking and more than happy to offer payday loans.

Now that's a quintile. 

I see it as something of a duty to talk about matters of poverty with my students. We work and learn in an area of affluence. All the metrics - median household income, median household value, unemployment - point out how wealthy our attendance zone is. Of course there are students from families who are shut out from this. Generally speaking, though, I teach students who don't encounter poverty much at all. This explains why I seek out articles like this to help build some idea about the faces behind the statistics and stories they see and hear in the media. 

One student's reflection. 

Short and to the point. 
Spending time with the article was particularly timely given a blog post that appeared, penned by a somewhat recent graduate of the school where I teach who tried to articulate what it's like to be on the outside looking in. To be from the one neighborhood all know isn't so fortunate in the midst of a community characterized by wealth and affluence. 

It's part of my job to make the students conscious about matters of wealth and poverty. I don't do this because I have some grand plan to bring about equity or foment a political movement. My goal is somewhat hazy: to elevate consciousness about how Americans of lesser means that is typical in my area live. It might not be an ambitious undertaking, but if I can get a dozen or two teenagers to walk from my doors thinking of a checking account as a luxury, because to some it is an unattainable one, I've done something important. 

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