Equity Literacy Project


A stack of one-dollar bills and green plastic board game houses being burned by fire on a pavement ground. The green houses resemble that of the board game Monopoly. There are two matches in the distance and out of focus. The words Socioeconomic Status captioned at the top with the flame from the burning material being visible through the text.INTRODUCTION

Contributor: Stephanie Whalen


As educators, we may often feel limited in our capacity to change structural inequalities that have been established over centuries, but our schools are the socializing institutions in which students can examine these systems of privilege and challenge the status quo to make democratic participation and social mobility realities instead of folklore. Income inequality is at its highest level since the Census Bureau started tracking it over five decades ago. As the income gap between the wealthy few and the majority widens, the threat of lack of equitable access and support for low-income students becomes more critical. Our educational institutions must afford opportunities for students to benefit from education as a public good, and for our society to benefit from an educated, engaged populace.


Without schools as social reconstructivist agents, the powerful will continue the trend of amassing wealth and further exploiting the poor and disenfranchised.  As we continue to move toward a larger class divide, schools are the main arena to fight against inequalities in our key institutions, and we must serve as champions for critical pedagogy. As such, we need to create classrooms in which all students, particularly low-income and other systemically non-dominant students, are engaged by a curriculum that speaks to their reality and can flourish despite the struggles they face outside. In order to do so, we must become equity-literate educators that work against blaming the victims through reproductions of stereotypes and deficit thinking and promote a conception of low-income students as deserving and capable. As Paul C. Gorski describes in Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap, a resilient conception of students from poor and working class families respects their ability to survive harsh conditions and environments, show compassion and willingness to help others despite their own limited resources and work cooperatively with others as part of a community. All of these positive attributes can be leveraged in a classroom to create meaningful, engaged learning and transform lives.


In this chapter, we seek to increase our equity-literacy around the socioeconomic class to become more actively involved in debunking the myths that our nation’s poor are somehow struggling to make ends meet because of a lack of effort rather than a lack of opportunity and resources. As educators, we must be aware that some families who are working the hardest are earning the lowest wages and going without despite their labor. These same families may appear to be uninterested in education when in reality just lack the time, energy, or mental bandwidth to engage in ways that families with sustaining wages and benefits can partake. We must also examine policies and practices that make academic achievement more difficult for our most under-resourced populations and serve as advocates for change. Where a focus on societal factors such as access to quality preschool, healthcare, sustaining employment, and nutrition are essential, educators can more readily control their classroom environment and curriculum to create more equitable learning environments.

The classroom is the critical place where teachers most strongly influence mindset and engagement of students from a variety of intersecting, minoritized backgrounds as well as those of the systemically dominant groups to model inclusivity, foster even participation and opportunity, and make clear that every student belongs even though the larger system may not be designed for them. Together, we can cultivate a sense of belonging and create an empowering educational experience with successful outcomes possible for all.


Student Voices

Socioeconomic Class and Opportunity

As a student, we often find ourselves with a lot on our plate, whether that’s with school, homework, extracurricular activities, or making time for leisure. For some of us, our biggest adversity is our parents’ income level. It’s one of the few things we have no control over but have to make the best of it. Often, my friends and I would find ourselves having to sit out of activities or programs after school or even outside of school. Another issue was after-school tutoring. The only way we could receive tutoring was privately or on rare occasions; some teachers would stay a little after to help. But the biggest challenge of all was when it came down to college. Unfortunately, my family was unable to pay for it, so I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. I saved my mother from the heartache and financial trouble of taking out loans. Not only have I experienced this firsthand, but I have also seen it affect the people around me. If programs were more affordable and accessible, it could change the outcome for us.

This topic hits close to home for me and is something I would love to see change in, to help out those in similar situations. When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was play sports and hang out with my friends. I would spend my summers and after-school hours going to the park or playing around the neighborhood every chance I got. Luckily, one summer I got to enroll in baseball. For a few years, I got to play around the local parks and eventually got invited to play for a traveling team. Unfortunately, due to my mom’s work schedule and budget, I was unable to participate. After that, I quit playing baseball, which, potentially could have earned me a scholarship for college later down the road. Sports have always been expensive, whether it was paying for your equipment, attire, or all the fees associated. If there were financial assistance for athletic programs for families or fee waivers, it could make a difference in a lot of neighborhoods and could be life-changing for many. It could run similarly to the meal assistance program. We can all recognize the benefits of clubs in school since you need to maintain good academic standing in order to play. This keeps students in school and less time off the streets.

When it came to receiving extra help in school, it became a little difficult. There weren’t many programs after school to help unless there was a teacher willing to devote the time to it. I have always struggled in writing and the only way I was able to get help was through private tutoring, which I was only able to go to for a few sessions because it was expensive and conflicted with my mother’s work schedule. One of the biggest problems I found about not being able to receive that extra help, was that we paid for it with our grades. If schools could maybe partner up with a local university and come up with a program that would help students looking for a teaching degree to run tutoring programs, it would be a win-win for both parties. I know resources can be limited, especially with funding, but I think if I had had a bit more help in after-school tutoring sessions, writing wouldn’t be my weakness to this day.

Lastly, the topic that hits closest to home, is the friends I have lost along the way. I lost friends due to the paths we decided to take. Growing up we had limited resources for athletics, after-school programs, and even our own community. Unfortunately, when you have all the free time and/or your parents are always working and have limited supervision you really don’t have someone guiding you on what’s wrong and what’s right. As adults, I do believe we all have control of our own decisions. I think that without having the proper resources we are put at a disadvantage when it comes to spending time around the right people. If there was a way to set up programs and allocate extra resources to schools with students in lower socioeconomic classes, we could potentially save lives and help the disadvantaged. In school, if there weren’t enough students to participate or they couldn’t reach the proper funding, the program would then get shut down. I think the biggest impact on communities is the youth. If they can break the cycle and/or keep their noses clean, we could grow our communities and make them healthy. Unfortunately, I know this is all easier said and done but this is what I have witnessed in my time and I think it could help. These were a few challenges I faced growing up and that’s why I decided to write about socioeconomic class. I’m pretty sure there is someone out there who has it worse. School is a huge part of our lives and instills the proper building blocks for us. I believe we should focus on finding the proper resources for athletic programs and after-school activities. With this, we could invest in our youth and possibly not miss out on future doctors, athletes, etc




Historical Education Debt*

The longitudinal absence of educational redress paid to Black, Indigenous, Latine, Asian, and Pacific Islander peoples for exploited labor during enslavement, genocide, settler colonialism, Jim Crow, and De Facto segregation. [1]

Moral Debt

“a reflection of the disparity between what we know is right and what we actually do” which requires each person to take personal and social responsibility for these actions and behaviors.[2]

Moral Panics

A state of being where people attempt to describe other people, groups of individuals, or events “that become defined as threats throughout a society” [3]

Nonmarket Effects of Schooling

Positive relationships/links between one’s own schooling and children’s, and the health of family members, the efficiency of choices including consumer choices, fertility choices,  and one’s neighborhood. [4]

Socioeconomic Status

The position or standing of a person or group in society as determined by a combination of social and economic factors that affect access to education and other resources crucial to an individual’s upward mobility.[5]


A division into social classes. [6]

Political Economy

The theory or study of the role of public policy in influencing the economic and social welfare of a political unit. [7]

Income Disparities

Class Struggle/Conflict

The conflict between different classes in a community resulting from different social or economic positions and reflecting opposed interests. Also called class war, class warfare, (in Marxist thought) the struggle for political and economic power carried on between capitalists and workers. [8]

Income Inequality

Income inequality, in economics, significant disparity in the distribution of income between individuals, groups, populations, social classes, or countries. Income inequality is a major dimension of social stratification and social class. It affects and is affected by many other forms of inequality, such as inequalities of wealth, political power, and social status. Income is a major determinant of quality of life, affecting the health and well-being of individuals and families, and varies by social factors such as sex, age, and race or ethnicity. [9]

Free and Reduced Lunch Income Eligibility Guidelines:

The Department of Food and Nutrition Service annually adjusts the Income Eligibility Guidelines (IEGs) to be used in determining eligibility for free and reduced-price meals or free milk. These guidelines are used by schools, institutions, and facilities participating in the National School Lunch Program (and USDA Foods in Schools), School Breakfast Program, Special Milk Program for Children, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Summer Food Service Program. The annual adjustments are required by section 9 of the National School Lunch Act. [10]

Living Wage

A subsistence wage; a wage sufficient to provide the necessities and comforts essential to an acceptable standard of living. [11]

Median Household Income

Income of households in the past 12 months – This includes the income of the householder and all other individuals 15 years old and over in the household, whether they are related to the householder or not. Because many households consist of only one person, the average household income is usually less than the average family income. [12]

Poverty Threshold

The Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty. If a family’s total income is less than the family’s threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered in poverty. The official poverty thresholds do not vary geographically, but they are updated for inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U). The official poverty definition uses money income before taxes and does not include capital gains or noncash benefits (such as public housing, Medicaid, and food stamps). [13]


Having less than full-time, regular, or adequate employment. [14]


Ascribed Status (closed)

Achieved Status (open)



One’s standing in society based on socioeconomic and subjective factors related to income, wealth, education, culture, and other factors  Class varies by society and can dictate access to resources and life chances. In the United States “middle class” is a pervasive term with variations such as “upper middle class” and “lower middle class” to denote large segments of the population. [15]

Class Bias

Prejudicial treatment or perception based on social class. [16]


Refers to upward and downward movement between classes, typically intergenerationally (i.e., between parents and their children). In the United States, mobility has been limited; one’s socioeconomic status at birth is a major determinant of one’s class for life. [17][18]



The ability or right to approach, enter, exit, communicate with, or make use of. Freedom or ability to obtain or make use of something. [19]


How confident an employee is in obtaining alternative employment and transit into a new job or career. [20]

Food insecurity

The disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources.[21]

Job insecurity

The overall concern about the continued existence of the job in the future. [22]

Labor Market Value

Identification of degrees, skills, and credentials are valuable and leads students to sustaining careers to ensure that schools are offering programs that meet student and workforce needs. [23]



One’s job and/or work. Public perception of different kinds of work can affect one’s class

Occupational Prestige

The differential social evaluation which is ascribed to jobs or occupations. What people know about jobs, or how people view occupations, is to a greater extent a given; much more variation exists in the value that they ascribe to them. [24]

Opportunity Structure

The fact that opportunities available to people in any given society or institution are shaped by the social organization and structure of that entity. [25]

Job Satisfaction

The pleasurable emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job as achieving or facilitating the achievement of one’s job values; and the extent to which people like (satisfaction) or dislike (dissatisfaction) their jobs. [26]




Joker (2019)

Parasite (2019)

The Pursuit of Happiness (2006)

Spanglish (2004)

Real Women Have Curves (2002)

Cinderella Man (2005)

Hillbilly Elegy (2020)


The Philosopher Kings (2009)

At prestigious US universities, an erased class of workers makes their own meaning of being part of their campuses and contributing to knowledge and community in the world.

Although this documentary is about colleges, it can apply to custodians and other workers who are often ignored, but serve as educators and thinkers nonetheless. Students may reflect on, what have they learned from people who aren’t their classroom teachers, such as custodial, administrative, and culinary staff. Whose perspectives do we value and how is that value informed by perceptions of value related to work and class?

Priced Out (2002)

Waging Change (2019)

The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour. This documentary goes into detail about the lives of people living in such positions, including the amount of work demanded as well as issues of sexual harassment.


Anyon, Jean. “SOCIAL CLASS AND THE HIDDEN CURRICULUM OF WORK.” The Journal of Education, vol. 162, no. 1, 1980, pp. 67–92. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42741976. Accessed 31 Aug. 2021.

In this classic, foundational article, Jean Anyon demonstrated how students of schools from different socioeconomic classes were trained to perceive education differently.


One Day at a Time (2017)

This sitcom follows the Alvarez family, a multigenerational Cuban-American family living together in an apartment building whose landlord is a wealthy white Canadian man and the family’s friend. Penelope, the main character, is an Army veteran and guides her family through topics related to race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, aging and death, and mental health and PTSD.

Superstore (2015)


  1. Contributed by David Stovall
  2. Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in U.S. schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3–12. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189x035007003.p.6
  3. Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in U.S. schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3–12. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189x035007003.p.8
  4. Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in U.S. schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3–12. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189x035007003.p5
  5. “Socioeconomic Status Definition & Meaning.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/socioeconomic-status.
  6. “Stratified.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stratified.
  7. (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/political%20economy)
  8. (dictionary.com)
  9. (www.britannica.com)
  10. (www.fns.usda.gov)
  11. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/living%20wage
  12. www.census.com
  13. www.census.gov
  14. www.merriam-webster.com
  15. (https://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/class/definitions)
  16. (www.collinsdictionary.com)
  17. https://www.pnas.org/content/117/1/251
  18. https://www.pnas.org/content/115/38/9527
  19. (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/access)
  20. Forrier, A. & Sels, L., ‘The concept of employability: A complex mosaic’, International Journal of Human Resources Development and Management, 3, 2, 2003, pp. 102-124
  21. Nord M, Andrews M, Carlson S. Household food security in the United States, 2005 [Internet]. Washington: USDA Economic Research Service; 2005
  22. Sverke, M., & Hellgren, J., ‘The nature of job insecurity: Understanding employment uncertainty on the brink of a new millennium’, Applied Psychology: An International Review, 51, 2002, pp. 23–42.
  23. (www.carnegie.org)
  24. (https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100244553.
  25. (https://www.thoughtco.com/opportunity-structure-theory-3026435)
  26. “Job Satisfaction in Psychology: 5 Surprising Research Findings.” PositivePsychology.com, 28 Oct. 2020, positivepsychology.com/job-satisfaction-research/.


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