Posted almost 4 years ago

09.05.14 Book Review: A Framework for Understanding Poverty

Normal 1409963504 Poverty Book

For August I read A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne

This book is along the same vein as See Poverty… Be the Difference by Donna Beagle, but was geared toward how to teach youth and went into a little more detail. The book has quizzes to see if the quiz taker could survive in poverty, middle class, or wealthy situations to point out the different skills and cultures of each group. The wealthy quiz was as foreign to me as the poverty one. The book also has very useful case studies to effectively illustrate the poverty culture.

Understanding the culture and values of poverty can reduce frustration in educating and in landlording. For example, realizing that the poor only see about 50% of what is on a page (because they are casual and not systematic about reading documents) was an ah-ha moment for me. The middle class culture has been the norm in the school system, but as the middle class declines and the population and culture is shifting to more poverty, traditional school isn’t working. Yet school is the only place for the poor to learn the middle class culture that they need in the job market.

The book states that there are 4 reasons people get out of poverty: they have a goal or vision, it is too painful to stay, they have a mentor, or they have a talent or special ability. Most people would not choose to live in a different socio economic culture because the values are intertwined with everyday life.

The book also pointed out that kids who are a product of dysfunction are being forced into grown up roles too early. Their emotional development is stunted because they didn’t progress from kid to adolescent to adult, so they miss out on the emotional resources and stamina needed to cope as adults.

Poverty is not having resources, and not just financial resources. Poverty also impacts emotional resources (stamina, the ability to stay in a situation), spiritual resources (belief in God brings hope), and physical resources (a body that functions and is mobile). Another ah-ha moment was realizing that tenants disappear in the night because they don’t have the coping skills to stay.

The hidden rules (unspoken cures, habits) of the middle class are valuing achievement, being self sufficient, using formal language, using space to solve problems (walking away), belief that future can be changed by choices, seeing money as a way to provide security, viewing male role as provider, and making decisions based on future ramifications. The hidden rules of the poor are valuing the ability to entertain, being noisy, using nonverbal cues, solving conflict physically, belief that can’t change fate, seeing extra money as needing to be spent and shared, viewing male role as fighter, lover, and physically hard worker, and making decisions based on present and feelings and survival or for entertainment and relationships.

Here are some behaviors related to poverty and how to influence them:

Argue with and distrust authority; don’t argue back, model respect.

Cannot follow directions due to lack of experience with procedures and sequencing and often complete only part of a task; write out simple steps, lower expectations.

Disorganized due to lack of planning, scheduling, and prioritizing skills; don’t assume items are filed and accessible, help with planning.

Many policymakers view the poor as needy, deficient, and diseased, not wanting tax dollars to go to someone who isn’t trying, isn’t motivated, is lazy, and so on. In reality the poor are reacting and problem solving in survival mode, focusing on the crisis of the day rather than proactively making choices to change their environment, situation, or future. The book states that policymakers need to focus not just on poverty, but also on the contributing political and economic factors, such as addressing jobs (transition from manufacturing to low wage jobs), economic disparity, correctly diagnosing problems, and stopping the exploitation of the poor (drugs, gambling, cash advances, rent to own, scams, etc.)

The book suggests three things that the low income need: insistence, expectations, and support to help them build strategies. I need to realize that tenants don’t read and know the rental agreement, but we still need to set the expectations and insist that they follow the rental agreement. When talking to tenants, we can help them problem solve by trying to offer them three options. This will help them to see their options (they often don’t see that they do have choices) and let them be in control of their goals and outcome rather than dictating a middle class goal to them as a distrustful authority figure. Our role as landlords is to role model, teach, and offer options.



Comments (8)

  1. Thank you for this.


  2. I bought this book and read it for some understanding. I found it quite informative. I do highly recommend that the middle class read it..especially dealing with low income and section 8 housing..


  3. Thanks M for the review. I'm always leery of these types of books.


  4. Okay I checked this one out of the library today and read it.  Overall, I would give it a positive review. It does read like a textbook, however, and the appendices are almost as big as the book itself.

    I also read over the quizzes to determine how well I would survive in poverty versus wealthy.  I certainly would make a better poor person than a wealthy person.  I can't imagine spending money on a 5,000 square foot home "just because".  I'd rather be in my little 950 square foot home (less to clean, heat, and keeps me bounded on how much "stuff" I can have).


    1. We're between those two extremes on square footage, but working on de-cluttering to be able to downsize.  Would never want to clean a huge house.

      I am missing many of the street smart skills for living poor... 

      Thanks for weighing in!


  5. @Michele Fischer 

    Thank-you ... I will need to read this and see how well the observations apply here in the north.


  6. I requested the 5th edition from the library.  I'll have to give this one a read.  Thanks for posting a review!


  7. very insightful. Thank you for posting

    Tracey