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West Coast Poverty Center

Studying Poverty at UW


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WCPC faculty affiliates and others at the University of Washington offer a number of graduate and undergraduate courses that provide students with a multidisciplinary foundation in poverty issues and U.S. social policy, current topics and methods in poverty research, and opportunities for professional development and mentoring by WCPC Faculty Affiliates. Below are courses sponsored by WCPC and/or taught by WCPC Faculty Affiliates. The sidebar at the right lists other courses across schools and departments on the UW campus that touch on poverty.

Consult the University of Washington Time Schedule for current course offerings.


Poverty and Antipoverty PolicyInstructor: Robert Plotnick, Professor of Public Affairs

PBAF 576

Open to Doctoral and Master students

This course provides a multidisciplinary introduction to poverty and antipoverty policies in the United States. We will focus on how poverty is measured, its causes, and its consequences for children. We will also address the politics and evolution of US social welfare policy, compare US social welfare policies to those in other affluent countries, analyze the effects of specific policies on household income and poverty, discuss how policies affect labor market, demographic and other behaviors, and consider the equity-efficiency trade-offs created by public policies. Readings will be drawn from the fields of developmental psychology, economics, political science, public policy, sociology, and social welfare. Other UW poverty experts from several disciplines will teach some of the topics.

Research to Policy: How Research is Used, Misused, or Missed by Decision Makers

Instructor: Marcia Meyers, Professor of Social Work and Public Affairs

Soc WL 591A

his seminar will explore issues in the use of research to influence public policies, with a focus on poverty and social inequality in the US.

Contemporary Social Welfare Policy

Instructor: Gunnar Almgren, Associate Professor of Social Work and Social Welfare

Soc WL 552

Open to Doctoral Students by Permission of InstructorThis course provides a critical review of the philosophical, and historical foundations of contemporary American income maintenance and related social welfare policies, and the economic, political, and social factors that affect their development, implementation, effectiveness, unintended consequences, and latent functions.


See Poverty and Antipoverty Policy PBAF 576 above.

Asset Building for Low Income Families

Instructor: Marieka Klawitter, Associate Professor of Public Affairs

PBAF 573

A new generation of social policy analysts and practitioners argue that building assets rather than income is the key to helping low income families prosper economically and socially. Governments and nonprofits have responded by developing new programs and retooling or repackaging old programs to support home ownership, education, and microenterprise.This course will explore assets and finances for low income families primarily in the US. We will identify programs and policies targeted toward asset building and look at evidence of their efficacy. Using a multi-disciplinary perspective, we will examine the economic, social, and political contexts for these policies.We will examine:*How families make financial and asset decisions*Policies to build assets (individual development accounts, tax credits, microfinance)*Financial literacy and financial services*Housing as a family asset in the age of foreclosure*Small business development*Education as asset*Community level asset building*Health as an assetThis course should provide students with a framework and analytical tools for evaluating issues and social policy and programs related to asset building and financial decision-making for low income families.The requirements for this class will be class participation and presentation, two short papers (3-5 pages), and one longer paper on an issue of your choice (10-15 pages).

Poverty & Inequality

Instructor: Jennie Romich, Associate Professor of Social Work

Soc Wl 501

This course is a critical analysis of poverty and inequality, with an analytic and descriptive focus on measurement, processes of production and perpetuation, and public policy responses. It examines competing perspectives on the causes of poverty and inequality, the role of policy, and socioeconomic dimensions of stratification, including race, ethnicity, class, gender, immigration status, disability, age, sexual orientation and family structure.

Poverty & Economic Security Public Service Clinic

Instructor: Robert Plotnick, Professor of Public Affairs

Two-quarter sequence, winter and spring


This Public Service Clinic addresses topics such as income support programs, tax policy, child support, low income housing, labor market policies and programs for low and middle income workers, educational programs for at-risk children, teen childbearing, health insurance, and social services for low and middle income families. Agencies are invited to propose projects on suitable other topics as well.  Masters students at the Evans School work with public sector and NGO clients on poverty-related projects suitable for their Masters degree projects.


Geography of Inequality

Instructor: Kim England, Professor of Geography

GEOG 342

This course considers the geographies of social, political and economic inequalities. The focus will usually be on urban areas, although other spatial scales will also be examined. The course begins with discussions of the theoretical underpinning of 'inequality'. The remainder of the course builds on these ideas by exploring topics such as the spatial distribution of wealth and poverty, and the geographies of exclusion and discrimination in employment and housing. Particular emphasis is placed on the US and Canadian experience, although some examples are drawn from other regions of the world, especially Europe.

Introduction to Social Stratification

SOC 360A

Social class and social inequality in American society. Status, power, authority, and unequal opportunity are examined in depth, using material from other societies to provide a comparative and historical perspective. Sociological origins of recurrent conflicts involving race, sex, poverty, and political ideology.

Social Welfare Policy (BASW majors only)

SW 320

Emphasizes policy and program development in social welfare with emphasis on the context, making, and unmaking of social policy. Covers policy formulation as well as current and emerging policies in social welfare.