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It is not always apparent in the context of the workplace or school, but many people, including students, faculty, and staff at the University of Utah, come from lower-income backgrounds or currently have lower incomes and have difficulty providing for basic needs like housing and food, or paying for their education. That said, it's important not to equate having a lower income with not being able to secure basic needs. They are not synonymous.

The ways in which we talk and write about people who are considered lower-income should convey compassion and sensitivity. Writing about poverty and those who do not have the money they need is a sensitive matter and sometimes a source of shame and stigma.

Being in a lower socioeconomic bracket is not a reflection of a person’s abilities or ambition, the individual is not to blame. Instead, it is indicative of a systemic problem. Many people who experience lower socioeconomic backgrounds can’t access work or basic needs because of policies and laws that have made it difficult for them to do so.

Remember that participation in programs such as Medicaid, “food stamps” (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, SNAP) and Pell grants for students are often considered proxies for “low-income.” However, these categorizations are not necessarily equivalent. Similarly, be aware that terms such as “poor” or “low-income” have been used as proxies for communities of color, perpetuating an inaccurate stereotype.


First-generation students

There is no standard definition of what a first-generation high-school/college student means, but it can be used to refer to students who are among the first in their family to go to high school or college (e.g. their parents did not attend high school or college) and/or students who are among the first in their family to graduate from high school or college (e.g. exceeding their parents’ highest level of education).


A rural area or a countryside is a geographic area that is located outside towns and cities. Typical rural areas have a low population density. It is okay to refer to people as being from a rural area.

Socioeconomic status (SES) 

Tends to refer to a combination of factors related to social class including income, financial aid, education, and occupation.


Underserved individuals are defined as those who do not receive equitable resources.

Writing Guidelines

  • Listen carefully to how a source tells their story and use similar or the same language.
  • Watch for biases in your writing including assumptions about race and the reasons for their income status, stereotypes, etc. The writer must be respectful and compassionate of the source and their circumstances.
  • Use "food security" instead of "food insecurity." Food security refers to having the financial means and ability to access enough food to meet dietary needs. As an example, you may say that an individual may be facing food security issues or concerns.
  • "Hunger" and "hungry" are different and should be used carefully. "Hunger" is a symptom of very low food security and “hungry” refers to appetite.
  • Use "homelessness" instead of "housing insecurity” or "housing instability." Consider that both housing and food security issues fall on a spectrum, with homelessness being the most urgent, acute end of the housing security spectrum.
  • Dealing with a lack of money, food, and/or reliable housing is a source of shame for some, but not everyone. Approach the topic with sensitivity and ask exactly what the source feels comfortable sharing in any content that will be made public, including photographs. Encourage a framework that helps people understand they are not alone.
  • Describe the issue as a national housing or financial crisis that pushes many people into these circumstances, rather than blaming the individual or a personal problem.
  • Do not encourage any perception that people are "working the system" to get free food or other assistance.
  • Don't use "poor," "impoverished," "underprivileged," or "disadvantaged" to describe people who are low-income unless your source specifies that they would like you to.

University of Utah Resources

Basic Needs Collective (BNC) functions as a space for student interaction, community development, and a coordinated exchange of information in order to promote wellness as a key to student success. Recognizing the many factors that contribute to wellness, the BNC seeks to provide a central location for resources related to food security, affordable housing, health insurance, managing finances, legal services, and mental health, to name a few. In order to do this, the BNC builds upon the existing success of institutional and community partnerships to facilitate supporting students through warm introductions and connections to internal and external partners.

Feed U Pantry provides nonperishable, nourishing food for all students, faculty, and staff with a current ID.

Other Resources
Conscious Style Guide: Covering Poverty