Economics of Poverty course fosters service learning through projects for local nonprofits

Students address and approach poverty issues through service-learning projects with two local organizations: Sustainable Alamance and the United Way.

Students merged service learning with an interdisciplinary approach to poverty alleviation this fall in a new “Economics of Poverty” course.

Taught by Steven Bednar, assistant professor of economics, the course explored the causes and consequences of poverty with a particular emphasis on the Burlington area. Students analyzed how poverty is measured in addition to causes and consequences of poverty, which included studying income inequality and economic immobility using economic theory and data analysis.

They also studied various anti-poverty programs in the United States, such as traditional welfare, the Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP benefits (food stamps) and Medicaid. Finally, the class covered theory and measurement of discrimination.

The course connected students with two local non-profit organizations, Sustainable Alamance and the United Way of Alamance County, for semester-long service-learning projects.

“The students partnered with two organizations whose missions are centered on transforming the lives of those living in poverty,” Bednar said.  “Through their field work, the students obtained a better understanding of the difficulties poverty-fighting groups are faced with.”  

The student team working with Sustainable Alamance was tasked with writing an economic impact report to put a dollar amount on the benefits the program produces.

The student team partnered with the United Way helped evaluate, write and administer the 2014 Community Assessment for Alamance County, which will eventually be used for distributing funding to community organizations. The team analyzed data from the Elon University Poll and helped synthesize assessments from various sources.

“Through our coursework and partnership with the United Way, we have been able to pair our classroom learning of the structural inequalities that can drive poverty with outside of the classroom real-world experience,” said senior economics major Maria Restuccio.

“Economics of Poverty” course was offered for the first time this fall. Bednar created the course to help students understand the scope, causes and consequences of an impoverished society. He included a service-learning component to further the students’ understanding of an anti-poverty program.

“Service learning is a mutually beneficial experience, where the students help community partners achieve one of their goals, and students gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of course material taught and discussed in the classroom,” Bednar said.

By Brittany Wenner ’15