Social PovertyLow-Income Parents and the Struggle for Family and Community Ties

Social PovertyLow-Income Parents and the Struggle for Family and Community Ties

Sarah Halpern-Meekin

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9781479891214

Publisher: NYU Press


Social Poverty draws on 192 interviews with young, low-income, unmarried parents to investigate the concept of social poverty, using the setting of a government-funded relationship education program. While commentators and academics have excoriated such programs for the value system they imply and their intervention results, participants are huge fans of them. Although critics view participants’ financial needs as dominating their social concerns, participants themselves are acutely aware of their relational needs. These needs drive their participation in and enthusiasm for the program. This study illustrates the fundamental importance to policy and poverty studies of properly understanding social poverty. Social poverty means not having adequate high-quality, trusting social relationships to meet core socioemotional needs. Poverty scholars typically focus on the economic use value of social ties—how relationships enable access to job leads, informal loans, or a spare bedroom. While such resources can be essential, this focus ignores the fundamental place of socioemotional needs in our lives and the extent to which avoiding or alleviating social poverty is a central motivation for many. As one young mother says, without her boyfriend she would “probably be the loneliest person on Earth.” Therefore, to accurately assess policy impacts and comprehend individuals’ behaviors, we must pay attention to both material and social hardships.