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UNLV Assistant Professor Ranita Ray’s New Book Focuses on Teenage Poverty

Recently, UNLV Assistant Professor Ranita Ray is awarded a National Academy of Education’s Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. The Spencer Foundation funds this fellowship to encourage outstanding researchers at the postdoctoral level to pursue critical education research projects. Ray’s award was one of only 30. Her fellowship research will focus on gender inequality in schools.

The key to alleviating generational poverty might be radically changing how we think about race and class, not modifying individual behavior. Ranita Ray makes the case for this in her 2018 book, The Making of a Teenage Service Class: Poverty and Mobility in an American City.

The assistant professor of sociology spent three years conducting an in-depth ethnography of impoverished youth in a northeastern city. There, she found that despite working multiple jobs, enrolling in college courses, abstaining from using drugs, and delaying parenthood, many of the youth she studied remained stuck in low-wage, dead-end jobs.

And programs designed to help them fell far short, with a myopic focus on drug, gang, and teen pregnancy prevention, Ray said. She posits that policymakers, nonprofits, and schools should funnel the millions they’ve invested in prevention programs instead to educational and support services that help youth navigate challenges such as food insecurity, affordable housing, health care, and transportation.

Here, she discusses how changing the systems and structures oppressing black and brown youth could help pave smoother pathways to upward mobility for them.

The National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program supports 30 early career scholars working in critical areas of education research. These $70,000 fellowships support non-residential postdoctoral proposals that make significant scholarly contributions to the field of education. The program also develops the careers of its recipients through professional development activities involving National Academy of Education members.

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