Second Major



Silvia Dorado

Advisor Department





poverty, asset building, payday loans


Less fortunate Americans have historically been urged to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” implying that prosperity was essentially just a matter of willpower. Over time, however, it has become clear that there are more than a few problems with this conception of American society. If hard work and willpower aren’t all that lower class Americans need to reach prosperity, then what do they need? This has been an issue of much debate ever since the question was first posed. The truth is that that poor Americans face many obstacles in managing their financial lives, and many of these obstacles concern things that are not within the realm of individual control. The road to prosperity, and how difficult it is to traverse, is influenced by many different structural factors in a given society.

Some of these structures apply to America as a whole, while others are much more localized. Here, we look at some of the structures that affect the efforts of low-income Rhode Islanders to take control of their financial lives.

Although poverty rates in Rhode Island are slightly below the national average, living with an income that is near or below the federal poverty level is a challenge that affects a significant number of Rhode Islanders. According to the most recent census data, 13.6% of people in Rhode Island are living below the federal poverty line (as opposed to 15.4% nationally). 21.6% of jobs are low wage, and the unemployment rate is 8.4%. Additionally, 12% of individuals in the state are uninsured.

This research was compiled through qualitative data from many different sources. It is based on archival sources, expert witnesses from around Rhode Island, and first-person observation. It looks at the challenges managing day-to-day expenditures and the potential positive effects of asset building. It will also examine exploitative practices such as high interest unsecured loans, which is a current issue of debate in Rhode Island. Through these findings, we hope to explore some ideas that might help low-income Rhode Islanders better face financial challenges, as well as current things that are being done to help the low-income population in Rhode Island.