For my summer job in high school, I sided houses for a contractor. One day my boss was complaining about how much a competitor charged, and I asked him, naively, how much he charged. He stared at me and huffed off.
"Why don't you just ask how big his dick is?" one of the other guys said.
Americans are very uncomfortable talking about income. We're uncomfortable about a lot of stuff, like race and gender, but at least those issues get airtime. This silence extends not just to construction sites, but also to issues where everyone agrees that income is an extremely relevant factor, like public education and student achievement.
The map above shows the proportion (with a slight adjustment) of enrolled students who are economically eligible to participate in the Free Lunch Program, by state. This covers the period from the 1991-1992 school year to the 2010-2011 school year, with new states appearing as they begin to report data, which is all from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Eligibility requirements are based on federal poverty standards: Free lunch is offered to children from households with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line; reduced-price lunch is offered to those with household incomes below 185 percent. For the 2010-2011 school year, a household of four would have to earn less than $28,665 to qualify for free school lunch, while those with incomes under $40,793 would qualify for reduced-price lunch. There were 3.4 million students eligible for the reduced price; 20.1 million were eligible for the free program. That's two in five students nationwide. In Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Mexico, it was more like three in five.
This is a problem that's getting worse. Dating back to 1991-1992, or the first year that eligibility data were reported, every single state has seen these proportions grow. Vermont, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Arizona, and Oregon have all seen their eligible student percentage double. The eligibility rolls began to seriously swell in 2008, when the economy went to shit. There's no reason to think it'll get better anytime soon.