Multiple factors contribute to individual differences in reading ability. The two most thoroughly examined are socioeconomic status (SES) and phonological awareness (PA). Although these factors are often investigated individually, they are rarely considered together. Here we propose that SES systematically influences the relationship between PA and reading ability, and test this prediction in 150 first-graders of varying SES and PA. Results confirm a multiplicative relationship between SES and PA in decoding skills, such that decreased access to resources may amplify cognitive risk factors for poor decoding, whereas greater access to resources may buffer reading skills among children with weaker PA. Attempts to identify the cognitive and experiential factors driving development must acknowledge the complex, synergizing relations between these factors.