Clarke Forum: Myths About American Poverty

Souha Alioua '24, Guest Writer

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, Dickinson College welcomed Lawrence M. Eppard, professor of Sociology at Shippensburg University and co-host of the Utterly Moderate podcast; and Mark R. Rank, a social work and sociology professor at Washington University, St. Louis, to speak about the issue of poverty in America. 

Both guest speakers, along with social psychologist Heather Bullock, co-authored a book entitled “Poorly Understood: What America Gets Wrong About Poverty,” which addresses misconceptions surrounding inequality and poverty in America. 

“Every dollar you spend reducing child poverty, you save between seven and eight dollars down the road back in ways you don’t realize,” Eppard stated. 

Eppard and Rank discussed how the public’s perspective on American poverty needs to change. They emphasized how this perspective is guided by myths, and it affects social prejudices and policy preferences in the United States. Some of the myths they tackled include the myth of poverty and race, how poverty is a choice, and how poverty is unavoidable. Both emphasized throughout their discussion that changing the public’s perception can help minimize discrimination. 

Both speakers elaborated on the idea that poverty is not necessarily “other” people’s problem, but it is a matter of the neighbourhoods people grow up in. For instance, most African Americans are not poor. However, 78% of Black Americans live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods compared to only 5% of White people. The guest speakers suggested that if people of all different races were distributed equally throughout neighborhoods, the numbers would equal out. Thus, the focus should be on providing more opportunities and changing the situations of the disadvantaged neighborhoods instead of thinking about this issue as another race’s problem.

Dan Schubert, associate professor of sociology at Dickinson College, joined the conversation at the end. He received the 2017-2018 Dickinson Award for Distinguished Teaching and his research has focused on social theory, inequalities, consumerism, and health and wellness.