Touched–But Not By Poverty

Reading this story is an exercise in frustration:

The state’s largest school district has added 515 students since this time last year, but the number of students from low-income families is growing even faster.

When the Sioux Falls School District’s year ended in May, 46.8 percent of its elementary students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals, up from 43.7 percent the year before. Districtwide, the number of students in the program increased by about 900 in one year.

“We’ve seen … with the economy that more and more students are stepping forward; they’re hungry,” Superintendent Pam Homan said.

Eligibility for meal programs is not the equivalent of poverty. Students “stepping forward” to eat such meals may or may not mean they are hungry in the sense that their parents are financially unable to feed them. It is likely that parents in this district are doing what parents all over the country are doing and taking advantage of available programs to make their money go to things that they still have to purchase themselves–like cable and cell phone service. In short, while there are probably parents in the district who legitimately cannot feed their children, the numbers are much, much smaller than we would be given to think from the details in the article.

But, wait. What about the homeless? Aren’t they hungry, too?

Although there are more getting help paying for lunch, the homeless count is down this fall. The district said 397 students, or 1.7 percent, are homeless, down from 441 a year ago. The majority of those actually have a roof over their heads but are living with multiple families in dwellings meant for single families.

Homeless people with homes. Not homes with 400 sq. ft. per person–or whatever the new average is, but homes nonetheless. So when my brother-in-law’s family and ours shared a single-family dwelling, our children were homeless? I’m glad I never told them.

The article’s real news is the increase in enrollment or lack thereof in various local school districts. Using the poverty hook gets more eyeballs but tends to lead people in a direction that is not particularly helpful.

To give us the real picture of poverty within the families of those getting meal assistance, how about telling us the criteria for qualifying for such assistance and then breaking down the budgets of 10 randomly selected families to who meet the criteria to see if kids are hungry because they  have no choice or because their parents are taking advantage of the system?

2 thoughts on “Touched–But Not By Poverty

  1. To answer your question, per the Sioux Falls School District (see here: then go to application pdf), a family of 4 with a household income of $41,348/year qualifies for free or reduced-price meals.

    For every additional person in the household, that threshold goes up by $7,067/yr.

    I’d bet dollars to donuts that quite a few applicants report their after-tax income when filling out these applications, too, as they don’t exactly trumpet the fact that they should report their gross.

    1. PNR,

      Thanks for looking this up. $41k seems quite high to me for even partial poverty–considering that the median income in Sioux Falls is $61k–but then again, I am hardly a learned poverty expert.

      Going off of this, though, my family would be eligible were I to earn $55k or less and live in Sioux Falls. If I cannot feed my family well without help for $55k, then there is real problem with my money management skills.

      I’m guessing you’d get the dollars (and the donuts) with your thought about reported income–particularly if the only penalty when someone is caught out would be that they lose the subsidy.

      I believe this would be an excellent area for the Argus to do a bit of investigative reporting.

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