Poverty in African American Communities


Povertyin African American Communities

Povertyin African American Communities

Roleof Social Workers in the Development and History of Poverty amongAfrican American Populations


Povertycan be defined as the living off an amount of money that is lowerthan the minimum necessary amount that is needed in order to have thebasic necessities of life, such as food and shelter. Therefore, thepoor people are believed to live in a povertyline, that is,dependent on the number of members of a given family (Gutman &ampMcLoyd, 2000).

Povertyin minority communities is a massive problem in the United States,particularly in African American communities. Due to a lack of jobs,lack of meaningful and useful education, and lack of opportunity, itis very difficult for minorities to “make it” and life themselvesout of the poverty they likely grew up in. As the problem becomesmore pervasive, the belief that subsisting on welfare is cementedinto the collective psyche of this subset, and it becomes easier toaccept the poverty as a way of life that cannot be overcome. Povertyhas many different faces, grandparents that exist on several hundredcalories a day so grandchildren can have lunch or children who are sopoor they go to school on an empty stomach (Gutman &amp McLoyd,2000). Then there are people who are so troubled they survive on thestreets, the stereotypical face of poverty. Additionally, those whosuffer from poverty are more likely to have chronic medical ailmentsthat might go untreated, or might not be able to afford to treat.(Gutman &amp McLoyd, 2000).

  • Definitions, as relevant:

Poverty:Living off an amount of money that is lower than the minimumnecessary amount that is desirable in order to have the basicnecessities of life, such as food and shelter (Fundukian, 2013).

Extremepoverty: Those living on less than one dollar per day in manysections of the world (Fundukian, 2013).

Povertyline: The dollar figure of which anything lower would indicate aperson living in poverty (Fundukian, 2013).

2015Poverty Line (Health &amp Human Services, 2015)

-Familyof 1: $11,770

-Familyof 4: $24, 250

  • Statistics on prevalence or incidence of the issue:

Thepoverty rate in 2013 went down .5% to 14.5%, which equates about 45.3million people (DeNavas-Walt &amp Proctor, 2014). The poverty ratefor African Americans in 2013 was 27.2%, slightly more than 11million people (DeNavas-Walt &amp Proctor, 2014).

Thisis significant as there are only 40.6 million African Americans inthe United States (DeNavas-Walt &amp Proctor, 2014). Poverty affectssingle mother households’ more than single father and two-parentmarried-couple households (DeNavas-Walt &amp Proctor, 2014). Singlemother households:15.5 million families, 4.8 million live in poverty,31%. Single father households: 6.2 million families, 1 million livein poverty, 16. Married-couple households: 59 million families, 3.7live in poverty, 6.3%.

  • Studies that look at risk and protective factors (more than one source):

Aliprantis,D., &amp Zenker, M. (2011). Concentrated poverty. FederalReserve Bank of Cleveland, 25.

Fleisher,M. (2009). Coping with macro-structural adversity: Chronic poverty,female youth gangs, and cultural resilience in a US African-Americanurban community. Journalof Contingencies and Crisis Management, 17(4):274-284.

Gutman,L.M., &amp McLoyd, V.C. (2000). Parents’ management of theirchildren’s education within the home, at school, and in thecommunity: An examination of African-American families living inpoverty. Urban Review,32(1): 1-24.

Hirschl,T., Rank, M., &amp Kusi-Appouh, D. (2011). Ideology and theexperience of poverty risk: Views about poverty within a focus groupdesign. Journal ofPoverty, 15(3):350-370.

Lawson,V., &amp Elwood, S. (2014). Encountering poverty: Space, class, andpoverty politics. Antipode,46(1): 209-228.

Theron,L.C., &amp Theron, A. (2013). Positive adjustment to poverty: Howfamily communities encourage resilience in traditional Africancontexts. Culture &ampPsychology, 19(3):391-413.



  • The issues relevant to social work:

Povertyin communities is particularly relevant to social work due to theeffect that poverty has on the entire community afflicted with it.Social workers are often important members of the community helpingthe elderly receive care they need, families receive benefits to helpthem survive, and children who might be in dangerous or unsafesituations (Aliprantis &amp Zenker, 2011).

  • Social work interventions that have been utilized

Thetop intervention for dealing with poverty is increasing access towelfare. While this might offer the necessary financial or foodsupport, it also is not helping to solve the problem of poverty. Jobtraining, when tied to the receiving of welfare benefits and thenhelp finding a job have moderate success, but too many of thosesuffering from poverty have not finished high school, or attendedsub-par schools, setting them up for difficulties when it comes tofinding financial security through good, full-time employment(Aliprantis &amp Zenker, 2011).

  • Significance of the Poverty Issue:

Beingthat America is perhaps the world’s richest nation that nearly 15%of its population barely survive and live in poverty is anembarrassment. There are fewer opportunities when people live inpoverty, employment is difficult to find, incomes remain low, and asthe poor become more and more concentrated in a smaller area ofcities the opportunity for betterment drops (Aliprantis &amp Zenker,2011). A community that does not have the hope or opportunity tosucceed will turn into a wasteland with drugs, violence, and illegalbehaviors that can be seen in any ghetto, city or country.

Girlswho grow up in poverty are more likely to become teen mothers, muchlike their own mothers, leading to higher high school dropout ratesand a reliance on welfare benefits without having a betteropportunity to ever get off (Fleisher, 2009). Sadly, children who areraised in poverty grow up to live in poverty, a never-ending cyclethat requires a meaningful response more than just an increase inwelfare benefits. The systemic racial discrimination that ispervasive and which keeps African Americans in poverty needs morethan just welfare money thrown at it. Schools need to be adequatelyfunded and staffed, and students need to be taught the value ofeducation. Children need to sufficiently feed, so that when they goto school they can focus on their learning. Parents need to buy intothe schools and help their children succeed in the classroom (Gutman&amp McLoyd, 2000). Communities need to engage their people andencourage betterment they need to be intolerant of crime andviolence and they also need to care for the people. If the communityas a whole gets job training, high school and college educations, andemployment, the entire community also benefits. Businesses will movein, and there will be more jobs and opportunities.

Socialworkers are often important members of the community helping theelderly receive the care they need, families receive benefits to helpthem survive through poverty, and also assist the children who mightbe in dangerous or unsafe situations.

Socialand material disadvantage, poverty, as well as social exclusion areissues in the stratified society that is the contemporary humansociety. Nevertheless, professional and policy ideologies have inmore ways than one failed in tackling the structural elements thathave a bearing on the inequalities. For a long time, debatepertaining to combating poverty has been dominated by the socialpathological model, with social work failing to address theassumptions that form the basis for the approach (Saleeby, 2007).Historically, social work has concentrated on tackling poverty withinthe individual level while giving no consideration to the sources ofthese inequalities.

Itis imperative that emancipator social work acknowledges theideological and structural factors that affect the persistence ofpoverty and the widening of gaps between the rich and the poor wherethe latter are affected in greater numbers. It is worth noting thatthe persistence of poverty among African American populations cannotsolely be credited to family traits rather it is imperative that theexternal factors that may inhibit or restrict the opportunities ofindividuals and hinder them from getting out of poverty be modifiedin the long-term. Indeed, scholars have acknowledged that it isimperative that poverty be located in the context of society so as todetermine the causes that result in poverty and inequality in thesociety (Lum, 2007).

Previously,there have been suggestions that social workers have proper awarenesspertaining to the impact that poverty has on people’s lives.However, as much as some workers comprehend the impact of perpetuallow income on parenting, there exists some evidence that social workhas a bad record as far as the understanding of or combating offamily poverty is concerned (Rooney, 2002). While social workers arerequired to consider the wider environmental factors, thecomprehension of social exclusion and poverty is usually not seen asfundamental to the evaluation approaches in social work. There is anincreasing trend where the managerialism and bureaucracy in socialwork leaves the practitioners as gatekeepers to resources since theservice users are expected to be more closely in line with theeligibility criteria (Rooney, 2002).

  • Social work interventions that have been utilized:&nbsp

Oneof the strategies that the social workers can use in accomplishingthis is by lobbying for a more inclusive society. This would involvetaking forward tasks that would enable individuals from every otherbackground to participate and feel that they belong in the modernUnited States. In this regard, social workers would promote regularcontact between the individuals from varying backgrounds and seek tolower prejudice through highlighting the shared values. This goes along way in eliminating the social tensions that exist between thegroups and assist the communities in dealing with economic and socialchange (Lum, 2007). It is imperative that social workers lobby forpolicies that concentrate on bottom-up strategies that encouragesocial responsibility and makes use of ideas and energies ofcitizens, voluntary sector and communities in building an integratedsociety that allows for the participation of all individuals.

Inaddition, social workers must establish or come up with developmenttrusts that allow the deprived communities to respond to thelarge-scale changes at a local or micro level. This would involvekick-starting the local economies and promoting neighborhood-basedself-determination, as well as engaging individuals on their ownterms (Skelcher, 2003). Such a program would function as achange-management business that would reverse the cycle of poverty ina sustainable manner. The programs would entail getting the localpeople to come up with their own solutions and cultivating thenetworks and skills that they need so as to optimize their chances inlife. Researchers have acknowledged that development trusts aremainly active in neighborhoods in the long-term, with a significantnumber of them using enterprise to retain, circulate and createwealth within the local areas (Lum, 2007). The success of this modelor program rests on the fact that it does not primarily depend ongrants from the government or other external entities rather it isupon the African Americans to take part in programs within theirneighborhoods that promote economic progress.

Inexplaining the varied causes and effects of poverty, scholars havecome up with varied theories. Until recent times, little attempt hadbeen made to extend theories to the changes, extent and forms ofpoverty. Indeed, social scientists such as Marx were primarilyconcerned with the evolution of the social, political and economicinequality where economists devoted a large proportion of theirinterest to factor shares of production, as well as the distributionand not the unequal distribution of resources. In instances wherethey studied the latter, economists would confine themselves to theexamination of wages (Lum, 2007). On the other hand, sociologistsusually generalized discussions pertaining to the origins andnecessity of equality or even restricted their work to studiespertaining to the topics that were only directly related or partlyassociated such as mobility and occupational status, persistence andstructure of local community. Nevertheless, two theories have comeout clearly as the most fundamental in sociology as far as offeringan explanation pertaining to the fundamental issues of poverty inAfrican American communities.

Modelsof Practice Theories

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Model

CBTTheory is a form of psychotherapy that deals with the individualperception of reality and how his/her emotions would affect his/herenvironment. This theory suggests that the poor people have theobligation to elevate themselves out of the poverty situation. It isa problem-solving approach towards the life of people who perceive tohave issues with their lives. It involves the identification ofproblems and distorted thinking, modifying beliefs, positive relatingand changing behaviors. Often, poor people have a distorted view andbelief about life in general that poverty is a way of life that runsthrough a family or a given community. Hence, in solving povertyamong African American communities, social care workers should employCognitive Based Theory and encouraging the people a lot (Shirlow &ampMurtagh, 2004).

  • Personal-Centered Therapy Model

Thisis a form of counseling that involves an individual inself-understanding and self-healing. It is within a person to alterhis/her behaviors and attitudes in a warm and genuine environment. Itis a non-directed form of therapy. The professionals will try tohandle the client in a non-judgmental and empathetic way. Therefore,social workers should try as much to help an individual realize thekind of therapy he/she needs, in the positive and empathetic way(Shirlow &amp Murtagh, 2004).

  • Solution Focused Therapy Model

Thistype of therapy deals with being focused on positive energy. Itsuggests that an individual should rather focus on solutions thanproblems. By realizing success in terms of the focused solution andcreating a consistent success, individuals improve their lives andbecome more confident in them. It brings more hope and the zeal toachieve more. Therefore, social workers should ensure that poorpeople are taught about the benefits of this therapy approach(Shirlow &amp Murtagh, 2004).

  • System Thinking Therapy Model

Thisapproach deals with a problem. It suggests that a solution to aproblem is systemic or overall-system based rather than focusing on aspecific approach. It believes in the context of relationships andsocial unity. Therefore, an individual’s problem is a communityproblem at large. Solving poverty should be a systems approach(Shirlow &amp Murtagh, 2004).


  • Structural-Functionalist Theory

Thistheory is primarily concerned with questions pertaining to thefunction and purpose that stratification serves in the society. Thistheory underlines the notion that every part of the society includingpoverty contributes in one way or another to the stability of thelarger system. Indeed, structural functionalists have always noted ormaintained that inequality and stratification are beneficial andinevitable in any society (Shirlow &amp Murtagh, 2004). Thestratification comes as extremely useful as it allows or ensures thatthe most appropriate individuals are at the highest echelons of thehierarchy while the individuals that are less worthy remain at thelower levels of the pyramid. Essentially, the individuals that are atthe top have power and other rewards bestowed on them as a result fthe high capabilities, with the high rewards existing in order tooffer qualified individuals with appropriate incentives it accomplishthe most crucial tasks pertaining to the high-status occupations(Skelcher, 2003). In line with this theory, the inequality betweenindividuals ensures that the jobs that are most functionallyimportant are occupied by the most qualified individuals.

Perhapsone of the most fundamental assertions pertaining to structuralfunctionalism theory is the notion that the structure of the familieshas a direct impact on the likelihood of existing in poverty. Indeed,scholars have acknowledged that nuclear families have exclusive orpreferential enjoyment of the sexual and economic rights over eachother (Skelcher, 2003). Essentially, the theory underlines the factthat single parents and same-sex parents have a higher likelihood ofraising their children in poverty, an element that becomes afundamental problem considering that a high percentage of AfricanAmerican children live in dysfunctional or single-parent families ata particular time of their childhood. Research has demonstrated thatin 2006, close to 36 percent of female-headed families that hadchildren lived in poverty, which is quite high in comparison to the6.3 percent of the married-couple families (Saleeby, 2007).

  • Conflict Theory of Poverty

Theconflict theory, on the other hand, comes as a critique of structuralfunctionalism. This theory presupposes the notion that the society iscomprised of groups that are fiercely fighting over scarce resources.Essentially, this breeds a class conflict where the bourgeoisie orthe owners of the factors or means of production are in control ofthe market system, while the proletariat or working class aredependent on the bourgeoisie for the salaries and wages. One of themajor contrasts between this theory and the structural-functionalisttheory is the fact that the conflict theorists state that thestratification is harmful and dysfunctional in the society. Indeed,the theorists see the stratification as existing for the benefit ofthe powerful and wealthy individuals at the expense of the poor (Lum,2007). Essentially, it is assumed that the individuals that are inthe higher echelons of status are perpetually trying to enhance theirriches at the expense and suffering of the individuals occupying thelower positions. For instance, a large number of wealthy families payextremely low wages to their nannies, gardeners and maids for thetasks that they accomplish at their homes. This competitive systemalongside the structural barriers to upward mobility can eventuallycreate and perpetuate stratification systems (Shirlow &amp Murtagh,2004). This theory states that inequality and competition are notinevitable rather they are established and maintained by individuals.Nevertheless, it is said that without the proletariat, productionwould essentially be impossible, in which case it is imperative thatthe inequality is maintained so as to safeguard cost effectivenessand stability in the society.

Thistheory comes as a proper explanation of the perpetual poverty that alarge proportion of African Americans have been grappling with.Indeed, it is noted that since time immemorial, at no one time havethis minority group been possessing the main factors of production.Their history as slaves means that they have always been dependent onthe salaries and wages that they received for their work particularlyin the fields. In the contemporary society, the increased populationsmean that there would be a reduction in the amount of resources thatwould be available for the public to share. It has been wellacknowledged that the power imbalance between the varied races causesdisparities in the resources that are available to them. Essentially,the individuals that are dispossessed of voice and power have ahigher likelihood of remaining trapped in poverty. As a minoritygroup, it goes without saying that African Americans are sociallyexcluded from accessing resources, whether they are education or evenfinancial resources that would allow for the elimination of povertyin the long-term. The lack of resources with which to put theirchildren through the education system means that the children wouldbe deficient of skills and knowledge that may result in theirexclusion from the labor market. Essentially, they would be trappedin the lower-paying jobs as they are not well equipped to occupy thewell-paying ones (Shirlow &amp Murtagh, 2004). On the other hand,the individuals that are in the higher echelons or who own thefactors of production will always have the opportunities to pursuetheir dreams and safeguard their place in the society.


Povertyamong African Americans has been on the rise in the contemporaryhuman society. This may have emanated from the disparity in theirsocial situations or rather their histories, particularly as slaves,which have robbed them of opportunities to gain control over thefactors of production. Essentially, the social exclusion of blackpeople from the resources in the society keeps them in poverty. Topromote anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice, it isimperative that social workers take part in debates pertaining tosocial differentiation and social divisions. They have to comprehendthe experiences and effects of divisions and oppression, as well asthe institutional and structural contexts of the poverty (Shirlow &ampMurtagh, 2004). Challenging the structural contexts would go a longway in safeguarding the effectiveness of social work. In this regard,social workers must come up with programs that seek to ensure theparticipation of the minorities and empower them in the long-term.The programs would entail getting the local people to come up withtheir own solutions and cultivating the networks and skills that theyneed so as to optimize their chances in life.


Theprimary intervention for dealing with poverty is increasing access towelfare. While this might offer the necessary financial or foodsupport, it also is not helping to solve the problem of poverty.

Mostof those suffering from poverty have not finished high school,setting them up for difficulties when it comes to finding financialsecurity through sufficient, full-time employment.

Communitiesneed to engage their people, and encourage betterment. It also needsto be intolerant of crime and violence, and they need to care for thepeople. If the community as a whole gets better job training, highschool and college educations, and employment, the entire communityalso benefits. Businesses will move in, and there will be more jobsand opportunity that will elevate their standards of living.


Aliprantis,D., &amp Zenker, M. (2011). Concentrated poverty. FederalReserve Bank of Cleveland, 25.

DeNavas-Walt,C., &amp Proctor, B.D. (2014). Income and poverty in the UnitedStates: 2013, current population reports. United States CensusBureau. Retrieved 27thMarch 2015 fromhttp://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-249.pdf

Fleisher,M. (2009). Coping with macro-structural adversity: Chronic poverty,female youth gangs, and cultural resilience in a US African-Americanurban community. Journalof Contingencies and Crisis Management, 17(4):274-284.

Fundukian, L.J. (2013). Poverty.The Gale Encyclopediaof Public Health, 2:739-742.

Gutman,L.M., &amp McLoyd, V.C. (2000). Parents’ management of theirchildren’s education within the home, at school, and in thecommunity: An examination of African-American families living inpoverty. UrbanReview, 32(1):1-24.

Health &amp Human Services.(2015). 2015 poverty guidelines. Office of the Assistant Secretaryfor Planning and Evaluation. Retrieved 29thMarch 2015 from http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/15poverty.cfm

Lum,D (2007). Culturally Competent Practice: A Framework forUnderstanding Diverse Groups and Justice Issues, 3rd ed. PacificGrove, CA: Brooks/Cole Cleveland,25.

Rooney,E. (2002). Community development in times of trouble: reflections onthe community women`s sector in the north of Ireland. CommunityDevelopment Journal37 (1), 33–46.

Saleeby,D (2007). The Strengths Perspective in Social Work Practice, 4th ed.Boston: Allyn &amp Bacon

Shirlow,P. &amp Murtagh, P. (2004). Capacity building, representation andintracommunity conflict. UrbanStudies41 (1), 57–71.

Skelcher,C. (2003). Governing communities: parish pump politics or strategicpartnerships? LocalGovernment Studies19 (4), 1–16.