Poverty in America: Integrating Theory, Research, Policy, and Practice


One-fifth of all American children live in poverty. Why? And what can be done about it? In this course, we will take an ecological and psychobiological approach to poverty in America and its relationship to public policy, with a focus on child poverty. We will discuss how physical and psychosocial environments differ for poor and nonpoor children and their families in both rural and urban contexts, specifically rural Upstate New York and urban Yonkers. We will explore how these differences affect mental and physical health and motor, cognitive, language, and socioemotional development. We will also discuss individual and environmental protective factors that buffer some children from the adverse effects of poverty, as well as the impacts of public policy on poor children and their families, including recent welfare, health, and educational policy reforms in the United States. Topics will include environmental chaos, cumulative risk and its relationship to chronic stress, and unequal access to health-care services. This course will also serve as an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research within the context of a service-learning course. Students will be expected to participate in a community partnership addressing issues related to poverty as part of their conference work. In the first semester, we will discuss the nature of these research and practice methodologies, and students will develop a proposal for community-based work in partnership with their community organization. In the second semester, students will implement and evaluate this project. A previous course in the social sciences is recommended.