The Poverty and School Drop Out Among Teenagers

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Young people make up the majority of those living in poverty. According to the United States Department of Labor, one out of every four children lives in poverty. More than 17% of school-age children are poor, and they seem to carry their poverty issues to schools and classrooms. Students who are hungry have difficulty focusing in class, and those who do not have proper medical attention do not perform well academically (Schargel & Smink 2014). According to an American Community study conducted between 2008 and 2012, one-third of high school students dropped out of college. These children contribute more than 20 percent of the total income of their household annually while a tenth of them contribute more than 50 percent. In general, they earn up to a quarter of what their families require and this keeps more than 42 percent of households from falling below the poverty line (Douglas-Gabriel 2015). Today wages are becoming more and more stagnant while other jobs are disappearing this requires families to have more workers in the household to sustain those families. This paper, therefore, discusses how poverty facilitates high school dropouts among teenagers and whether poverty is a significant factor in the school dropouts.

Research Questions

Does poverty facilitate the dropping out of high school by teenagers?

Is poverty a significant factor in school dropouts?

Conceptual and Operational Definitions

The variables in my research questions poverty and school dropouts. The term poverty has no specific definition but it can be explained in several ways. It is multifaceted and includes economic, political and social elements. The World Bank defines it as the state of living on less than two dollars a day. It represents lack of opportunity, empowerment and a general poor life quality. Poverty has its sub-lines, which are absolute poverty line and the cycle of poverty. Absolute poverty is the state of living under a certain predetermined amount of income and consumption. The cycle of poverty is where poor families are entrapped in poverty for generations due to lack of critical resources such as financial services and education. Another definition of poverty is the lack of food, shelter, medication, and clothing (Farah 2011).

School dropout occurs when students exit schooling before graduating. The students may drop out of school temporarily, return and then drop out again. This pattern of school disengagement is prevalent in students from poor families (Weiner & Craighead 2010). The independent variable in the research is poverty since it does not rely on something else. A change in the value of an independent variable causes either a negative or a positive change in a dependent variable. The dependent variable is school dropout since it is prompted by poverty. A change in the value of a dependent valuable is because of a change in the independent variable (McNabb 2015).

The operational definition involves the way in which a variable is measured. This study calculates poverty in terms of relativity. Relative poverty calculation compares an individual’s money and possessions to others within the same society or country. A person is considered poor if his or her income level falls below some minimum level that is necessary to meet basic needs (Gifford 2009). The relative income principle states that the relative income that matters when measuring equality and not the absolute income. Therefore, if everyone’s income rises in the same proportion the overall inequality measures will not be affected. The relative income criteria are measured by, percentile distribution where one percentile is compared with another variable i.e. comparing the top 10 percentile with that of the bottom 40 percentile. The standard deviation of income is also used where income deviation is measured through the assessment of the deviation from the mean the relative poverty line is also used and it assesses an individual’s or a household’s position in comparison to others in society (Singh 2007).

School dropout rates will be measured using the cohort dropout rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2009 indicated that 8 percent of American students dropped out of high school annually. In the statistics, the rate of white students was 5 percent that of black students was 9 percent while that of Hispanics 17 percent and that of Asian or Pacific Islander’s students was more than three percent. The cohort dropout rate measures the outcome for a single group of students over a period, in this case, those who live in poverty (Chambliss & Eglitis 2013).


The hypothesis of this paper is a casual one since one variable causes the other to happen. In this sense, the hypothesis is that poverty is the reason teenagers from poor families drop out of school.

Sampling Design

My sampling designed is by way of a survey carried out in form of questionnaires. The population of interest is high school teenage dropouts who live in poverty. The sampling frame is Brooklyn, New York and it was chosen due to the ethnic diversity of the area. The method employed for the research is the perusal of secondary literature such as books and scholarly articles and the use of questionnaires. My sample was done in among five high school dropouts in Brooklyn spread over several neighborhoods. The group was administered with questionnaires containing eight close-ended questions and two open-ended questions.

Questionnaire Results and Analysis



Respondent 1

Respondent 2

Respondent 3

Respondent 4

Respondent 5

 Socio-demographic measures





















Variable 1





Measured by Q4

Joined high school

Joined high school

Joined high school

Joined high school

Joined high school

















First year

 First year

First year

Second year

Fourth year





A little







Variable 2

Measured by Q9

Lack of concentration

Lack of concentration

School fees

School fees

Poor academic performance



Getting a job

Getting a job

Starting a business

Starting a business

Getting a job

The analysis of the table is as follows: the ages of the five responders were 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 respectively. There were three males and two females. On their ethnicity, one was white, two were blacks, one was Hispanic and the other one was biracial. On their education, all had joined high school and all had dropped out at different levels due to poverty. Three dropped out during their first year, one during the second year and one during the final year. On the change of their status since dropping out of school, three said that nothing had changed, one said there were changes and the other one said the change was little. The challenges faced while in school were lack of concentration, lack of funds and poor performance. On their plans after dropping out three planned to get a job while two planned to start a business.

Peer Reviewed Article

The peer-reviewed article related to my research is dropping out and clocking in (2015) by Molly M. Scott, Simone Zhang, and Heather Koball. The study focuses on teens that drop out of school to work because of poverty. The thesis questions include whether teens who work vary from those who leave school early, what employment looks like for those who leave school early, and what the working youths contribute to their households. The hypothesis is that poverty causes students to drop out of schooling in order to work. The methods employed in the research include the use of surveys, books and scholarly articles. They also administered questioners in the research. The study found that 40 percent of young people who are out of school and working were between the ages of 16 to 19. It also found that 54 percent of these students are native-born males, 45 percent are non-Hispanic whites, 32 percent are Hispanics and 17 percent Americans (Zhang & Koball 2015). In comparison to my study, both papers employ primary and secondary sources of data. The findings are similar in that most teenagers living in poverty opt to drop out of school in order to work and support their families.


The purpose of the research is to determine whether poverty influences school dropouts among teenagers living in poverty. The methodology applied is both the use of primary and secondary sources including questionnaires, books, and scholarly articles. The key findings are that teenagers from poor families find it hard to concentrate in class, perform better or even finish high school because of the challenges they face at home. Consequently, they will prefer to drop out and work to help their families.

The strength of my findings and studies is that there are many numerous surveys conducted on the subject matter over the years with almost similar results showing consistency. The weakness of the study id that I had to take what the respondents provided, as I have no way of proving the information provided. Implications for future research are that there are students who still opt to drop out of school in order to work and a study should be conducted on how to stop this exodus.


Through this assignment, I have been able to learn research methods, the requirements of a research and the procedures. I have also learned that research methods slightly vary according to the topic as I have noticed through other articles that I have perused through the research.


Craighead, I. B. (2010). The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology, Volume 4. John Wiley & Sons.

Douglas-Gabriel, D. (2015). An alarming number of teenagers are quitting school to work.

Eglitis, W. J. (2013). Discover Sociology. SAGE Publications.

Farah, Q. H. (2011). Revitalization of Somalia: Dib u soo Nooleynta Somaaliya. AuthorHouse.

Gifford, C. (2009). Poverty. Evans Brothers.

McNabb, D. E. (2015). Research Methods in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management. New York: Routledge.

Molly M. Scott, S. Z. (2015). Dropping Out and Clocking In: A Portrait of Teens Who Leave School Early and Work. Urban Institute, 1-13.

Singh, K. (2007). Quantitative Social Research Methods. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Smink, B. F. (2014). Strategies to Help Solve Our School Dropout Problem. New York: Routledge.


Please Tick [ ✓ ] where appropriate

Part A Close-Ended Questions

What is your age group 15-17 [ ] 18-19 [ ]

What is your gender Male [ ] Female [ ]

What is your Ethnic Group White [ ] Black [ ] Hispanic [ ] other [ ]

Did you join High school Yes [ ] No [ ]

Did you complete high school Yes [ ] No [ ]

If no, is poverty the reason Yes [ ] No [ ]

Which year did you drop out First [ ] Second [ ] Third [ ] Fourth [ ]

Has the status changes since dropping out of high school Yes [ ] A little [ ] No [ ]

Part B Open-Ended Questions

How did poverty affect your education? Please explain.


How did your plan to change your poverty status after dropping out of school? Please explain


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