The  documentary film Poor Kids illustrates relative poverty in the United States. How does social stratification (income, wealth, power, occupational prestige, schooling, race, ethnicity, etc)...

The  documentary film Poor Kids illustrates relative poverty in the United States. How does social stratification (income, wealth, power, occupational prestige, schooling, race, ethnicity, etc) explain their challenges ?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Frontline's documentary Poor Kids illustrates how social stratification explains the challenges of poor kids in the United States. In truth though, the documentary shows relative poverty, showing kids who have newly fallen into poverty or whose poverty level is that of the working poor who have  not reached the level of destitution. One example form the film will provide illustration of how some of the elements of social stratification explain the challenges of poor kids in the United States.

One of the most striking examples of kids who have newly fallen into poverty because of changes in the economy is that of the family living in the Salvation Army shelter. Their father lost his construction and home remodeling business, which had been successful and lucrative, due to the shockwaves of the economic collapse of 2008-2009. He comments that after people "started talkin' about he recession is coming; the recession is coming," people stopped remodeling or repairing their homes. As a consequence, the family lost nearly everything they had including their income and home, though through some mercy they were able to keep their car so the mother of the family could eventually find work.

The son of the family, a young teenager, had been used to having "designer labels" in his clothing choices.In his distress at trying to adjust to their new status, he said he wouldn't wear "Air Walkers out of the house." With a real but in ways weak grasp of the reality, he insisted to his mother that she buy him "Jordans" because even "knock-offs" were better than a  non-designer label shoe. Oddly, his mother retorted by placing blame on him, embedding self-humiliation along with the social humiliation of poverty.

This family illustrates the challenge of wealth and power: the son sees the objects of wealth and the options of power but is constrained from accessing them any more. His personal social situation means he will loose more friends or be unable to make the kind of friends he wants to have. The parents low-prestige jobs and educations leave them few options for career changes, though it must be noted that middle and upper-middle class families have gone through the same experiences of selling everything owned, being evicted from their homes or down-scaling to modest accommodations. So when an entire economy collapses as happened in in 2008-2009, identical effects seen may stem from opposing social stratification.

One other family, the first one interviewed, has a loss of a job and as a result were unable to maintain their possessions and lifestyle. The education level of the parents closed almost all doors of opportunity except at the level of the working-poor in minimum wage jobs. In the absence of occupational prestige employment and higher levels of schooling, another family was forced to seek out government assistance. The only psychological comfort to poor kids in that situation is seeing that they are not alone, so the innate sense of humiliation that accompanies failing to provide for yourself is blunted a bit by seeing that many are in the same state.

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gsenviro | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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According to National Center for Children in Poverty, 45% of US children live in families with low income, with half of them (~ 16 million children) have a family income less than the federal poverty level. These children face daily challenges in all aspects of their lives, aspects that affluent children never have to even think about. Here are some numbers to illustrate the challenges they face:

  • $23,050 is the Federal Poverty level as compared to $50,054 which is the median household income in US
  • ~ 16 million children live in poor families, that is one in every five children.
  • 47.6% children living in family headed by single mother are poor. The rate of poverty for family with single mother is more than four times as high as that for married couples
  • 38.2% black children and 32.3% Hispanic children live in poverty. 
  • Majority of poor children are located in Southern states. 
  • 45% of children who spend more than half their childhood in poverty stay poor at the age of 35 years. 

These numbers illustrate the social stratification in terms of income, race, ethnicity, geographical location and future prospects. Many of the poor children are reportedly friendless, bullied at school, often go hungry, live in families with drug/alcohol abuse, move frequently, have poor school performance, have health issues, cannot afford appropriate clothing, cannot afford utility bills and hence find surviving adverse weather difficult. Many of these children do not have a permanent roof on their heads and are in the fear of being homeless. Their parents are either out of work or do odd jobs. Their houses (if they have a permanent house) are in extremely poor conditions (molds, lack of heating or protection against weather elements, etc.). Given the higher rate of poverty among certain ethnic groups, a clear ethnic stratification takes place. Worse of all, many of these kids depend on free meals available in the school and fear the holidays/vacations. 

The children living in relatively affluent families do not even have to think about these situations and thus perform much better in academics, have a more enriching life and are better prepared for success in life. 

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