By Marisa Russell (Special to The Chronicle) Falling into poverty has become a rising issue in the middle class, and it is an issue that many find close to home on Long Island.
Carol Fletcher, chair of the department of journalism, media studies and public relations, said that the local relevance of poverty, here in the region of America’s first suburbia, was one of many reasons why Hofstra was able to host its part of the national “Covering Suburban Poverty” conference series.
The conferences, which concluded for the University last Friday, Sept. 27, were hosted by the McCormick Foundation, a national group that develops journalism programs for the education of the general public. The foundation picked sites where it could host multiple, specialized reporting institutes and train journalists and the public in ways to cover timely issues of importance.
Kelley Green, a journalism graduate student, said that the impact of suburban poverty should not be taken lightly.
“Poverty is a hidden issue, especially in the eyes of education… [I]t does affect students who do anticipate going to college. They may find it’s something that’s unaffordable to them,” said Green.
In both Nassau and Suffolk counties, the level of poverty has grown by almost 50 percent, according to Trudi Renwick of the American Census Bureau. This increase affects local students, as well as students from other areas looking to study at a Long Island college. It has also forced many students to rethink their financial decisions.
“I have friends that have been to a good school and had to transfer to a state school or a community college because they couldn’t afford it any more, even though they had the grades,” said Emily Levine, a freshman public relations major. “By the time I’m out of college, I’m going to have so much debt that – no matter how good of an education I’m equipped with – I’m not going to be making enough to pay it off soon.”
In today’s society, a college education is essential to bringing the overall level of poverty down, according to Fletcher.
“College education is critical to making a livable wage in this country,” said Fletcher.
Rising poverty levels in the middle class affect national trends in the quality of education and in enrollment. Poverty levels also determine how, where or when students will have the option to attend a college. And, once a student finds a college that they can afford, struggling with the daily strains of poverty makes it harder for that student to stay in college.
“You have students now that are coming to campus, where they have to do a job or two jobs on campus as part of their financial aid package and they have a job on the outside,” said Fletcher.
Undergraduate education is already becoming the new norm to replace a high school degree, which then pressures students to work towards a master’s degree. But, with poverty across the nation increasing by 0.8 percent in the last year, financially attaining those higher degrees can be impossible, according to Renwick. In the past 10 years, poverty in the suburbs has gone up by 44 percent.
Michael Hanley, a civil rights lawyer at the Empire Justice Center in New York, said that the best way to analyze poverty is to examine a wide range of factors.
“If you look at all of the factors that affect education, the one thing that is consistent is [that] where there are high levels of poverty, it will affect education,” said Hanley.
Falling into poverty or being considered poor scares many students out of pursuing a higher education, according to Green. And these experiences can affect college decisions as well as student dropout rates.
But even as run-ins with poverty discourage some students from higher education, Fletcher sees students at Hofstra who are dealing with financial difficulties and still insist on obtaining their degrees despite those challenges. Seeing those students’ experiences, she said, has taught her something about this generation’s perseverance in the face of poverty.
“I have so much respect for my students when I see all the things that they have on their plates because of the [bad] economy,” said Fletcher.