Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Women in Transition: A Qualitative Analysis of Definitions of Poverty and Success

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Women in Transition: A Qualitative Analysis of Definitions of Poverty and Success

Article excerpt

Although the United States is perceived as an economic world leader, poverty adversely impacts a significant proportion of its citizens. For instance, research cited by the Economic Mobility Project (EMP, 2010) indicated that more than 50% of U. S. citizens have an income at the bottom one-fifth of the population. Furthermore, individuals in the lower strata tend to remain in that position for a decade or more. The adverse economic impact of poverty is frequently compounded by society's preconceived notions about individuals living in poverty. Society tends to ascribe pathology to those earning the lowest incomes and to attribute income levels to personal deficiencies (Popple & Leighninger, 2008). McCombs (2009) noted that individuals commonly misperceive those in poverty as ignorant, stupid, lazy, and incapable of bettering themselves.

Women, especially women of color, who receive public assistance of any kind frequently endure heightened scrutiny (Schram, Soss, & Fording, 2003, as cited in Lott & Bullock, 2010). Gender differences occur across all income levels. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP, 2007), 13.8% of women in the U. S. were poor as compared to 11.1% of men. Women of color, single mothers, and older women experience poverty at higher rates and remain in poverty for longer periods in comparison to other groups (Cawthorne, 2008). Women living in poverty face a double bind--coping with the adverse economic impact of poverty and contending with social stigma. In spite of the stigma, some women utilize available educational resources such as the Educational Talent Search program. It is important to identify the protective factors that help women effectively utilize available social support systems, as they can aid clinicians who work with those moving from poverty. This qualitative study seeks to extend the existing literature by sharing the stories of ten women who self-identified as being impoverished in childhood, participating in an Educational Talent Search Program in the Midwestern portion of the United States during their early adulthood, and creating their own transitions into adulthood.

Literature Review

The experience of poverty can be one that is fraught with ambiguity. Much of the mystery surrounding poverty lies in the fact that the term is difficult to operationally define. In addition to the challenge of finding a concise definition, there are as many proposed reasons for why poverty exists as there are researchers to suggest them. Clearly, poverty is not a concept that can be neatly defined or easily explained. However, the majority of individuals view poverty as a stigmatizing and shaming experience that no one wants to admit having firsthand knowledge of, but one that everyone wants to escape.

Bullock and Limbert (2003) cited the importance of obtaining an education, particularly as a way to enhance one's socioeconomic status. However, four-year degree programs are often inaccessible to many low-income women, especially welfare recipients. Although college boosts a woman's social standing as well as her psychological well-being, low-income women often expressed uncertainty about beginning and finishing a baccalaureate degree program (Bullock & Limbert, 2003). There is not an extensive amount of literature that speaks to the idea that low-income women view education, especially training programs, as a way to achieve upward mobility (Bullock & Limbert, 2003). However, the participants in this study had participated in the Educational Talent Search program at one point. Although their experiences with the program varied, each of the women understood the importance of obtaining an education.

Many people, particularly individuals in American society, believe that anyone can achieve the American dream, because this is the land of opportunity. As a result, many encourage others to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to become successful (whatever success is). …

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