PBS. (2017, Feb. 28). Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America. Lawmakers Hear Impact of Food Insecurity on College Campuses. [Television series]. USA: PBS.

Discussion questions:

  • How do you think food insecurity affects students here? How do you know? If you don’t know, how could you find out?
  • According to the video, what are some of the causes of food insecurity among college students? How does this issue relate to some of the reading selections in the chapter?
  • What options exist for getting free or low cost food on or near your campus?
  • How can colleges and universities respond to food security among students, addressing both the immediate need and the root causes?

Discussion Questions

Compiled by Maurianne Adams, Larissa Hopkins, Davey Shlasko

1. Selection #26: Mantsios, "Class in America—2016"

  • Mantsios offers four questionable beliefs that people generally hold about class in the U.S. and then shows why those beliefs are not supported by facts—
    1. the U.S. is a classless society
    2. the U.S. is a middle-class society
    3. everyone in the U.S. is getting richer
    4. everyone in the U.S. has an equal chance to succeed.

Select one of these 4 beliefs and use the information in this selection, along with your own observations and experiences, to argue whether or not the belief you’ve selected is supported by facts.

2. Selection #27: Smith & Redington, “Class Dismissed: Making the Case for the Study of Classist Microaggressions”

  • The authors make a distinction between microassaults, microinsults,   and microinvalidations in their explanation of microaggressions.  Based on your reading and on your observations, please provide examples of each of these forms of microaggression for two different kinds of oppression -- classism and at least one other form of oppression (for example, religious oppression, racism, sexism, or some other form discussed in this book).  (You may want to look at the videos on microaggressions for further examples.)
  • Consider your own experiences in higher education, in workplace settings, and/or in other parts of your life. What classist microaggressions have you witnessed, whether directed at you or at another person? How did you understand them at the time? How do the ideas from this reading change that understanding? Can you think of any examples when you might have participated in a classist microaggression against another person, even unintentionally?

3. Selection #28: Oliver & Shapiro, "Race, Wealth, and Equality"

  • What are some of the governmental policies described by Oliver & Shapiro that contributed to and increased the racial disparities in wealth, between Whites and Blacks? What are some of the legacies and consequences of this racial disparity in wealth today?
  • What current governmental policies (at the national, state or local levels) are you aware of, that contribute to or seek to correct the racial disparities in wealth?
  • Can you describe your own family's access (or lack of access) to wealth and intergenerational legacy of passing wealth along to the next generation, within the racial-inequality pattern described by Oliver & Shapiro?

4. Selection #29: Williams, "What's Debt Got to Do with It?"

  • Williams describes numerous "financial services for [people who are] bankless" and shows how they are part of a debt-cycle that has substantial costs for the people who use them.   Taking two of the  examples discussed by Williams, explain the financial disadvantage in using them.  How might low-income people find a better way of managing their paychecks or loans or other financial transactions so that they lose less and save more?
  • Have you observed people or have you yourself been caught in the kind of debt-cycle described by Williams?  Describe the harm done by this debt-cycle and find at least one way out of the debt-cycle.

5. Selection #30: Schmidt, "At the Elite Colleges"

  • How does Schmidt's description of the favoritism that advantages wealthy students  in some colleges’ admissions processes seem similar and/or different from the idea of affirmative action for poor students or students of color?
  • What advantages and/or disadvantages, related to class, did you experience in your college application experiences? Consider factors such as previous experiences with college attendance in your family, your access to supports like college counseling and campus visits, and your family’s relationship if any to the particular schools you applied to.  If you are not a college student, consider these issues in relation to the schooling you have experienced thus far or the experiences of members of your family.

6. Selection #31: Jaffe, "Is the Near-Trillion-Dollar Student Loan Bubble About to Pop"

  • What are some of the public policy reasons that the burden of debt has increased in recent years for many college students and their families?
  • What aspects of the debt burden on college students and their families are results of banking policies, as explained by Jaffe in this article, or outright public grants (such as the Pell grants) and government policy toward educational opportunities?  What other factors would you add that Jaffe does not include?
  • Compare your insights and learning from this reading, with the information and perspectives presented by the video, "Student Debt: Denying the American Dream," (included in the Further Resources section of the chapter website).

7. Selection #32: Wolanin, "Students with Disabilities: Financial Aid Policy Issues"

  • Explain 3 factors that disproportionately affect the expense of higher education for students with disabilities.
  • Compare the challenges experienced by students with disabilities with the challenges experienced by other students from marginalized and underrepresented groups. In what ways are the challenges similar? In what ways are they different? What opportunities for coalition across groups might these similarities present?

8. Selection #33: Benns, “Free Labor”

  • What are your first reactions to the article (feelings, thoughts, questions)? What information from this reading was new or surprising for you?
  • Consider stereotypes and assumptions that you may have heard, or that you may hold, about prisoners. In what ways do these overlap with other stereotypes and assumptions about racial groups and class groups?
  • Consider assumptions that you may have heard, or that you may hold, about why people are incarcerated. How does the history explored in this article change your understanding of the social and economic causes of incarceration as a phenomenon?
  • Who benefits from mass incarceration? Who is harmed?
  • How are race, class, and occupation entangled in Benns’ description of the relationship between unpaid or underpaid prison labor and the history of unpaid slave labor in earlier US history?  Does this relationship surprise you?  What further questions does it raise for you, such as the disproportional percentage of people of color in public or private prisons?

9. Selection #34: Kochhar & Fry for the Pew Research Center, "Wealth Inequality Has Widened Along Racial, Ethnic Lines Since End of Great Recession”

  • The earlier selection by Oliver & Shapiro provides an historical account of the wealth gap between U.S. Blacks and Whites. How does that background inform the information about the continuing racial wealth gap reported in this 2014 report?
  • Are there specific examples shown in the PBS video “Chasing the Dream: Despite Promising Census Figures, Not Everyone is Bouncing Back from Recession” (included in the Further Resources section of the chapter website) that personalize or explain why so many people have not recovered from the 2008 financial collapse?  What are the roles of banks, personal credit, and home mortgages in this uneven recovery?
  • What changes in federal, state, or local governmental regulations or policies would you propose as a starting point to reduce the wealth gap?


10. Selection #35: Romero, "Bonds of Sisterhood—Bonds of Oppression"

  • Describe some of the dynamics Romero presents of race, class, language, and gender  in the relationships of female employers with their domestic workers.  Select one of the many specific situations that Romero describes to show how these different dynamics play out.
  • Consider this narrative piece in light of Selection XX, ”Home Economics.” How do the data presented in Home Economics, and the stories presented in this piece, each support your understanding of the other?
  • How are you accustomed to thinking about the labor required to maintain a household - cooking, cleaning, errands, and so on? In your family, who performs this labor? How is it recognized, valued, or compensated?

11. Selection #36: hooks, "White Poverty: The Politics of Invisibility"

  • How does bell hooks reverse and contradict the usual, expected hierarchies of race and class in this article?
  • Do you find her language, her attitude, and/or her analysis of "white poverty" surprising? In what ways?
  • What new insights do you get from hooks’ analysis of race/class at this individual, local level, regarding the interactions of race and class historically, culturally, or systemically?

12. Selection #37: “The Laws that Sex Workers Really Want”

  • What are your first reactions (feelings, thoughts, questions) to this piece? How are they related to stereotypes and assumption you may have heard, or you may hold, about sex workers and the nature of sex work?
  • If you have watched Juno Mac’s TED Talk (rather than or in addition to reading the transcript), how are you affected by viewing and hearing her presentation? (The TED talk is included in the Further Resources section of the chapter website.)
  • Juno Mac talks about sex work as a form of work. How is this similar or different from the ways you’ve been accustomed to thinking about sex work? What issues are illuminated differently by looking at sex work through the lens of labor?
  • Consider this piece in combination with Selection 33, “Free Labor.” How do the variety of legal landscapes for sex workers relate to other economic and social forces related to mass incarceration?
  • Consider this piece in combination with Selection 35, “Bonds of Sisterhood—Bonds of Oppression" and selection 43, “Home Economics.” How are domestic labor and sex work treated similarly and differently in the current US legal and economic systems, and in the dominant understanding of valued labor? How do the intersections of race, class and gender play out similarly and differently in the two spheres?

13. Selection #38: Collins, “Born on Third Base”

  • How do you respond to Collins’ struggle with his inherited wealth and privilege?  Do you see other intersecting dimensions of privilege that he pays less attention to?  How do you think those intersections may have affected his decision in this situation?
  • Do you think Collins should have let the members of the mobile home community know that he easily could have paid for the mobile home lot from his inherited wealth? What do you think were the benefits and drawbacks of his decision not to tell them?  How do you think his decision affected the group’s sense of community, cohesion, and empowerment?
  • What do the social norms you grew up with say about disclosing details of your financial situation? Do your friends know how much money you make, or how much savings you have? (If “it depends,” what does it depend on?) What do you think it would be like to discuss this information openly with friends and colleagues who have similar and different class backgrounds and current financial situations to your own?
  • If you had wealth and other economic advantages such as Collins had, can you imagine yourself using your privilege for the benefit of others?  How might you do that?  What non-economic benefits might you gain from such an action?  What benefits did Collins gain from his actions?

14. Selection #39:  Rodriguez, “Gentrification Will Drive My Uncle Out of His Neighborhood and I will have Helped”

  • Rodriguez describes the double-bind he finds himself in, as someone who has “succeeded” economically while most of his family and community have not. What are the economic and social forces limiting Rodriguez’s options for acting in accordance with his values? What are the ethical and family dilemmas he is faced with?
  • How do you relate to Rodriguez’s conundrum, in terms of economic roles you are in? In what ways might you benefit from certain social and economic patterns, even though you didn’t ask to be in that position? How do you grapple with the contradictions of that reality?
  • How do you relate to Rodriguez’s conundrum, in terms of family dynamics? Are there economic and/or class differences within your own family? How do they play out? How might you want them to play out differently?
  • How have you seen gentrification playing out in places you’ve lived? Who benefited? Who was harmed?
  • What are the larger social and economic forces that drive gentrification? How can they be changed, so that development benefits everyone equally (or equitably)?
  • What is the role of policing in gentrification? How does it highlight the intersection of class and classism with race and racism? How does it relate to the issues of incarceration discussed in Selection 33: Benns, “Free Labor,” and in the issue of criminalized labor discussed in Selection 37: “The Laws that Sex Workers Really Want”?

15. Selection #40: van Gelder, "How Occupy Wall Street Changes Everything"

  • Based on this reading, and your general knowledge of more recent events, who are the 99% and who are the 1%? What are the factors of income and/or wealth that differentiates the 99% from the 1%?  Have things gotten better or worse, and why is this the case?
  • What influence, if any, do you believe the "Occupy" movement has had on current-day politics or policies? What other social movement groups may have drawn tools, tactics, inspiration, or momentum from Occupy?
  • How is the recognition of economic disparities highlighted by Occupy Wall Street reflected in the political rhetoric on multiple sides of national and local election cycles?
  • What changes in laws, regulations, tax policy, other policies would you recommend to alleviate the economic situation identified by the "Occupy" movement?

16.  Selection #41: Leondar-Wright, "Classism From Our Mouths" and "Tips From Working-Class Activists"

  • Of the many examples of conscious and unconscious classism in this selection, which ones sound like things you have heard before? Which sound like things you can imagine yourself saying? Which are new to you?
  • How do the examples “classism from our mouths” relate to widely-held stereotypes and expectations of poor and working class people? In what other ways do these same stereotypes and assumptions play out?
  • Which of the tips from working class activists are most relevant to you? Why/how?
  • How do you balance the importance of learning from the experiences of people who have experienced marginalization, with the responsibility of non-marginalized people to do their own “homework” and not only rely on oppressed groups for education and awareness?

17. Selection #42: Pittleman and Resource Generation, "Deep Thoughts About Class Privilege"

  • This selection raises specific questions about many aspects of daily life where class privilege disadvantage can make a big difference—in major decisions, work and school, where you live, social situations. Select one of these areas and answer the questions that are highlighted in the article, reflecting on your class privilege and/or your class disadvantage (since most people have some of both).
  • Think of examples of how other forms of privilege and disadvantage—based on race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, religion, and so on—intersect with your class privilege and/or class disadvantage.

18. Selection #43: “Home Economics:

  • What are your initial reactions (feelings, thoughts, questions) to this piece? What was new or surprising to you? What was familiar?
  • Consider this narrative piece in light of Selection 35: Romero, "Bonds of Sisterhood—Bonds of Oppression.” How do the stories presented in that piece and the data presented here each support your understanding of the other?
  • What do you think of the policy recommendations put forward in this piece? Who would they benefit, and how? Who might not benefit?
  • How do the policy recommendations put forward in this piece relate to Juno Mac’s discussion of laws and policies related to sex work?
  • Why do you think domestic labor has been largely ignored in US labor law and politics? How do race, gender, and other intersections come into play?
  • What can you do in your spheres of influence to improve the situation for domestic workers?

19. Selection #44: “Charts from United for a Fair Economy”

  • These charts present several ways of examining economic inequality across race, class and gender, and how these relate to trends over time in economic policy. What are your first reactions to these charts (feelings, thoughts, questions)? Which aspects of the charts confirm something you already knew, and which aspects are new or surprising?
  • How does the information from these charts relate to some of the analysis you read in Selection 26 (Mantsios), Selection 28 (Oliver & Shapiro), and any other readings?
  • View the video Wealth Inequality in America (included in the Further Resources section of the chapter website). What are your first reactions to the video (feelings, thoughts, questions)? What insights does this video add to your understanding of the charts in the selection? If you were to narrate one or more of the charts in the selection, similarly to how the narrator explains the charts in the video, what would you say?
  • View the video Sound of Wealth (included in the Further Resources section of the chapter website). What are your first reactions to the video (feelings, thoughts, questions)? What insights does this video add to your understanding of the charts in the selection?
  • How does the mode in which this kind of economic information is presented (e.g. as charts, as moving charts with narration, as a sound demonstration, or as plain text) affect your reaction to and understanding of the information?

Next Steps

Compiled by Maurianne Adams

  • Bigelow, B., Peterson, B. (2002). Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools Press. Numerous experiential activities and instructional designs that can be adapted for different classroom contexts and age groups.
  • Davis, N. (2000). Welfare organizing at the grassroots.  Colorlines,  Issue #10.               .
  • Heuvel, K. V. (November 3, 2005). Editor’s cut: Sweet victory: Wal-Mart Roundup. The Nation.
  • Hughes, D. M. (2003).  Hiding in plain sight: A practical guide to identifying victims of trafficking in the U.S.  Toolkit to combat trafficking in persons: Global programme against trafficking in human beings. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
  • Krugman, P., Wells, R. (March 23, 2006). The health care crisis and what to do about it. The New York Review of Books, 53 (5)
  • Leondar-Wright, B. (2005). Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle-Class Activists.  Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.  This volume provides suggestions, tips, and resources for social change and activism, in chapters such as “Some places we meet,” “Obstacles to alliances,” “Steps toward building alliances,” and “Resources” such as organizations and websites, and recommended books (which supplement the list provided on this chapter website Section 2).
  • Lieber, R. (November 1, 2008).   Forming a club to share financial wisdom.  New York Times.
  • Mantsios, G. (1998) (ed.) A New Labor Movement for the New Century.  New York: Monthly Review Press.  This edited volume takes up many of the challenges faced by working class organizations, with case studies and ideas for effective action, with chapters such as “Creating democratic communities in the workplace,” “Successful organizing at the local level,” “Getting serious about inclusion,” “Class-based politics and the labor movement,” and “International labor solidarity in an era of global competition.”
  • Pittelman, K. (2005). Classified: How to Stop Hiding your Privilege and Use it for Social Change. Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull Press.
  • Prokosch, M., Raymond, L. (2002) (eds).  The Global Activist Manual: Local Ways to Change the World.  New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books.  Chapters such as “Crossing borders,” “Building coalitions,” “Challenging white supremacy,” “Direct action,” “mobilizing consumers,” and “practical tips.”  Each chapter has numerous tips, ideas, examples and activities from perspectives of activists, organizers and change agents.
  • Rose, F. (2000). Coalitions Across the Class Divide: Lessons from the Labor, Peace, and Environmental Movements.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.  Case studies and concrete suggestions in Part IV Coalitions in practice with chapters such as “Coalition organizing,” “Finding a common language,” and a “Conclusion: Prospects for a working- and middle-class alliance.”
  • Smith, C. (2007). The Cost of Privilege: Taking on the System of White Supremacy and Racism. Fayetteville, NC: Camino Press.  The last 6 chapters—“Prospects for unity,” “Gender, class, organization,” “The personal is political,” “Organizational measures,” “Social struggle” and “Advancing the discussion”—provide guidelines and tips for working in coalition across identities that are highly relevant to Classism applications.
  • Smith, L., Foley, P. F., Chaney, M. P. (2008). Addressing classism, ableism, and heterosexism in Counselor Education.  Journal of Counseling & Development, 86, 303–309.
  • Strout, L. (1996). Bridging the Class Divide: And Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing. Boston: Beacon Press.  Based on the Piedmont Peace Project, Strout offers chapters on “Principles for a new organizing model,” “Invisible walls,” “Redefining leadership,” and “Getting smart about organizing.” 
  • United for a Fair Economy website has a number of action tools, such as to evaluate elected officials on tax policy,; evaluate pay equity,; and actions people can take for responsible wealth,


Further Resources

PBS. (2017, Sept. 18). Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America. Despite Promising Census Figures, Not Everyone is Bouncing Back from Recession. [Television series]. USA: PBS.

PBS. (2017, June 5). Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America. For Millions, Underemployment is a New Normal. [Television series]. USA: PBS.

U.S. Student Association. (2007). Student Debt: Denying the American Dream. [YouTube video]. USA: U.S. Student Association.

YouTube/politizane. (2012, Nov. 20). Wealth Inequality in America. [YouTube video].

Labanowski, Phyllis (2013). Class Action: Sound of Wealth. [YouTube video].