Syllabus SOC W 501 (A) Poverty and Inequality

Winter, 2008

Dr. Gunnar Almgren/ Dr. Diana Pearce

Class Meeting Times: Thursdays 6 p.m.-8:50 p.m., SSW Room 32

Office Hours: By Individual Appointment


Contact Information:

Dr. Almgren or 206-685-4077

Dr. Pearce or  206-616-2850


Course Description


This course is a critical analysis of poverty and inequality in the US, with an analytic and descriptive focus on measurement, processes of production and perpetuation, and public policy responses. It examines competing perspectives on the causes of poverty, the role of policy, and socioeconomic dimensions of stratification, including race, ethnicity, class, gender, indigenous status, disability, age, immigration status, sexual orientation and family structure.


Course goal: To enable students to critically examine the dimensions, causes, consequences and perpetuation of poverty and inequality in the U.S., to understand the role of policy in producing, maintaining, and alleviating poverty and inequality, and to offer a theoretical and analytic foundation for promoting social and economic justice.



At the conclusion of this course, students will be able to:


1.      Understand different measures of poverty and inequality, their value and empirical dimensions, and their consequences for the social construction of the problem, policy response, and the political debate.


2.      Be familiar with the type, magnitude, and trends of disparities in several dimensions including power, status, health, as well as social and economic inequalities.


3.      Understand stratification and inequality by various social dimensions such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, immigration status, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation and family structure.


4.      Understand the role of historical oppression and colonization in creating and perpetuating poverty and inequality.


5.      Critically analyze competing perspectives on the causes of poverty, particularly individual versus structural explanations, how these theories are invoked in public discourse, and their implications for governmental response.


6.      Critically evaluate and apply alternative perspectives on poverty and inequality, both within the US and global contexts, that encompass conflicts between labor and capital, synergistic processes of economic and social stratification, and other critical forces that produce and perpetuate poverty and inequality.


7.      Understand the role of public policy and its implementation in producing, maintaining and alleviating poverty and inequality in the US.


General Course Requirements and Policies:


Attendance and Participation


Students are expected to attend class regularly, do the assigned reading in advance of class, and participate in class discussions and exercises. Course format will include lecture and class and small group discussion.  Many of the issues, ideas and arguments considered in the course are inherently controversial. Thus it is expected and critical to everyone’s learning that a tone of open and respectful discussion will be maintained throughout the course. We have much to learn from one another and this intellectual and personal growth is best achieved by encouraging dialogue and seeking to understand diverse points of view.


Papers and Grading


Papers should be typed, double spaced, using a standard 12 point font (e.g., Times Roman). Please number your pages. Use APA (American Psychological Association) style referencing (with citations in the text, not in footnotes). The School of Social Work offers a writing consultant -- please take advantage of this excellent resource. Contact for details. Also see for helpful information about avoiding plagiarism and correctly drawing from others' work.


Grades will be based on the following: comprehensiveness and depth of content; integration of course material; organization and quality of writing; skill of argumentation; ability to articulate ideas; evidence of critical thought; original thinking; depth of analysis; and creativity. As a graduate level course, grades in the "C" range (2.9 or lower) are considered unsatisfactory. Grades in the "B" range (3.0 to 3.6) indicate satisfactory to very good performance. Grades in the "A" range (3.7 to 4.0) indicate excellent to outstanding work.


Please note that unless otherwise instructed, all course assignments are to be submitted in hardcopy to either instructor directly or via his/her mailbox at the School of Social Work on or before the due date. While electronic submissions are convenient in many ways, downloading and printing multiple submissions from large classes is quite burdensome.


Students with Disabilities


The School of Social Work and the University at large are committed to ensuring facility and program access to students with either permanent or temporary disabilities through a variety of services and equipment. The Disability Resources for Students Office (DRS) coordinates academic accommodations for enrolled students with documented disabilities. Accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis and may include classroom relocation, sign language interpreters, recorded course materials, note taking, and priority registration. DRS also provides needs assessment, mediation, referrals, and advocacy as necessary and appropriate. Requests for accommodations or services must be arranged in advance and require documentation of the disability, verifying the need for such accommodation or service. If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact DRS Office 448 Schmitz 206-543-8924 (V) 206-543-8925 (TTY). If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to us so that we can discuss the accommodations you might need for the class.


Inclement Weather Policy


On rare occasions, it has been necessary for faculty to cancel classes due to road conditions and concerns about safety, regardless of whether the rest of the University is closed. In that event, we will notify Student Services (543-8617) and Student Services will announce cancellations on email and will put the information on the office voice mail after the office closes (543-8617). We will also send out notification on the e-mail list serve that is specific to this course.


These procedures apply only when some classes are canceled on an individual basis while the University remains open.


Students who are unable to get to campus due to safety reasons should contact their instructors by phone or email.


Readings. Assignments, and Basis of Course Grade




Course readings are assigned from two required texts and a set of required (or in some cases recommended) supplemental readings available from the library e-reserve system.


Texts: Both required texts are available in modestly priced softcover editions at the UW Bookstore:


Schulman, The Betrayal of Work. New Press 2005


Iceland, Poverty in America. University of California Press, 2006


Supplemental Readings  E-reserves can be accessed by selecting your MYUW webpage and then clicking on the course title, or via the following URL:

In addition, a hardcopy of the e-reserve readings has been made available via the SSW Library Reserve for short term individual check out.   





Assignment Title

Percent of Course Grade


Due Date

Active Engagement and Participation



Assignment #1   Sufficiency Standard Exercise


January 17th

Assignment #2   Experiential Assignment


February 21

Assignment #3  Poverty, Inequality and Social Policy


       Part 1      Descriptive Synopsis of


       Part 2       Causal Explanations and Policy









January 31


March 13

Assignment #4 Individual Reading Reflections


Weekly from Week 2 Through Week 9



Assignment Descriptions


“Active Engagement and Participation” requires being regularly present during class sessions and adequately prepared for participation in thoughtful and informed classroom discussions of the observations, concepts and arguments covered in lecture and course.  readings.     


The detailed descriptions of Assignments 1 through 4 will be handed out and discussed during class well in advance of their due dates.
Weekly Schedule


Week and Topic

Lecture/Discussion Content Offered



Week 1         Jan 10


How Social Stratification Works in America

Course Overview


Stratification by in America by Race, Class and Gender

Massey, D. S. (2007). Chapter 1 “How stratification works,” Categorically Unequal: The American stratification system. New York: Russell Sage.

Week 2         Jan 17

Conceptualization and Measurement of Poverty


Conceptualization and Measurement of Poverty in Historical Perspective


Conventional Measures of Poverty


Reframing the Measurement of Poverty


Iceland, Ch. 1-3

Pearce, Diana  (2007.) The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Washington State, p. 1-30. Online:

Bradshaw, J., & Finch, N. (2003). Overlaps in Dimensions of Poverty. Journal of Social Policy, 32(4), 513-525.


Read one of the following:  

(1) Edin, K. and L. Lein (1997), Ch. 1, p. 1-8, skim ch. 2, p. 20-59, Making Ends Meet. New York:  Russell Sage Foundation.

(2) Ehrenreich, Barbara. (1999). Nickel-and-Dimed: On (not) getting by in America. Harper’s. 


Samuelson, R. J. (2007). “Importing poverty.” Washington Post. Washington, DC: Sep 5.

Greenstein, R. (2007). “Misreading the poverty data.” Washington Post. Washington

Week 3         Jan 24


Characteristics of the Poor and Dimensions of Inequality


Characteristics of the Poor and Transformations in the Nature of Poverty


Dimensions of Inequality: Health, Wealth and Social Space

Iceland, Ch. 4


Marmot, M. (2002). The Influence of Income on Health: Views of an Epidemiologist. Health Affairs 21 (2): 31-46.


Kawachi, Daniels, and Robinson  (2005) . Health Disparities By Race And Class: Why Both Matter. Health Affairs 24 (2): 343-352.


Pearce, Diana.  2006. Overlooked and Undercounted:  Welfare, Work and Wages in Washington State.

Week 4         Jan 31

Theories of Poverty: Why are Some People Poor and Why are there Poor People?











Week 4 Continued-

Theoretical Narratives of Poverty and their Influences on Policy


Q:  Is Gender (single parenting & labor mkt gender dynamics) structural or individual?

Iceland, Ch. 5&6, Schulman 1&2


Murray, Charles, A. (1984). "Incentives to Fail", pp. 154-166, Chapter 12 In Losing ground: American social policy, 1950-1980. New York: Basic Books.



Massey and Denton. The Creation of Underclass Communities. In American Apartheid. Cambridge:  Harvard University Press 1993.

Pp. 114-147.


Mullaly. (1997). Structural Social Work Theory. In Structural Social Work. Oxford University Press: Ontario, Canada. Pp. 99-137.




Portes, Ferna´ndez-Kelly and Haller. Segmented assimilation on the ground: The new second generation in early adulthood. Ethnic and Racial Studies. 28 (6) November 2005: 1000-1040.


Teitz, Michael, B., & Chapple, Karen (1998). The causes of inner-city poverty: Eight hypotheses in search of reality. Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, 3, 3, 33-70.


Week 5         Feb 7


Poverty and Inequality in International Context

How is Poverty the Same/Different Internationally


Klaus Deininger and Lyn Squire, "Economic Growth and Income Inequality: Reexamining the Links"  Finance and Development (March 1997) pp. 38-41 (4 pages)
World Bank, World Development Report 2000-2001: Attaching Poverty  Ch 1 "The Nature and Evolution of Poverty" pp. 15-29 (14 pages),,contentMDK:20195989~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:336992,00.html 
United Nations Development Program, International Poverty Center, Pro-Poor Growth- What is it? one- pager No. 1 Sept 2004 (1 page)

Naercio Menezes-Filho and Ligia Vasconcellos "Human Capital, Inequality, and Pro-Poor Growth in Brazil" Ch 9 in T. Besley and L..J. Cord eds. Delivering on the Promise of Pro-Poor Growth ( Palgrave Macmillan and the World Bank, 2007) pp.219-223, 227-230, 238-241
(12 pages)

World Bank, World Development Report 2006: Equity and Development (Washington).,,contentMDK:20586898~pagePK:64167689~piPK:64167673~theSitePK:477642,00.html1
IMF, World Economic Outlook, 2007. Ch 4 "Globalization and Inequality" pp. 31-65

Martin Ravallion "Pro-Poor Growth: A Primer"  World Bank Working Paper (2004)     

Week 6         Feb 14


The Origins of the American Welfare State

The Role of Race and Gender in the Shaping of the American Welfare State

Iceland, Ch. 7,  Schulman, Ch. 3 &4


Quadagno. Unfinished Democracy. In The Color of Welfare. NY:Oxford Univ. Press 1994.


Katz. The Invention of Welfare. In The Price of Citizenship. NY: Henry Holt and Co. 2001.


Week 7         Feb 21


The Contemporary American Welfare State: Structure, Policy and Programs

The Three Tiers of the Welfare State, How Social Security Works and the “Crisis” in Social Security


Schulman Ch. 5


Hays, Sharon. 2004. Flat Broke w/ Children:  Women in the Age of Welfare Reform ch. 1,  Ch. 2  , and ch. 4 


National Women’s Law Center. 2005. "Social Security: Women, Children and the States " NASW. 2000. Women & Social Security


Week 8         Feb 28


Critiques of the Welfare State and Welfare Reform


Deconstructing American
Attitudes Towards Welfare and Critiques of the Welfare State


Deconstructing Welfare Reform

Schulman Ch. 6&7


Gilens. Racial Attitudes, the Undeserving Poor, and Opposition to Welfare. In Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1999.



Almgren, Yamashiro, and Ferguson. Beyond Welfare or Work: Teen Mothers, Household Subsistence Strategies, and Child Development Outcomes. (2002) Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 24 (3): 125-149.

Soss, Schram, Vartanian; and O'Brien. Setting the Terms of Relief: Explaining State Policy Choices in the Devolution Revolution. American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 45, No. 2. (Apr., 2001), pp. 378-395.

Week 9         Mar 6

Strategic Responses to Poverty



Iceland, Ch. 8


US Department of Health and Human Services (2003). Healthy Marriage Matters to ACF. Washington, DC: Administration for Children and Families publication.

Center for American Progress.  April, 2007. From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half (Report and Recommendations of the Center for American Progress Task Force on Poverty), p. 1-5, 26-63. 


Hills, J. and J. Waldfogel (2004). "A third way in welfare reform? Evidence from the United Kingdom." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 23(4): 765-788.

Krugman editorial on UK -

Zuberi, Dan.  2006.  Differences That Matter:  Social Policy and the Working Poor in the United States and Canada.  Ch. 1 & 2 (p. 1-23) and ch. 9 & 10 (p. 151-176).  [comparison of how different social policies and unionization rates affect the lives of the working poor, using specific individual hotel workers’ stories in Seattle vs. Vancouver.]

Christopher, Karen.  (2002). “Family-Friendly Europe.”   The American Prospect 13:7, p. 59-61.

Week 10       Mar 13

Student Presentations  of Assignment #3

Schulman, Ch.8


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