Issues

Education

Education is considered an equalizer and a route out of poverty—but barriers within the system can maintain and exacerbate inequalities. Divergence begins as early as preschool, with many families unable to afford what research shows is a critical support for young children. The United States has one of the lowest preschool enrollment rates of economically comparable countries. Primary and secondary schools struggle to meet students’ needs with the amount of funding they receive, and the system often fails its most vulnerable students. The “poverty gap” in standardized test scores has increased by 40 percent in a generation. An average of 84 percent of students graduate from high school on time, with much lower figures for black, Hispanic and low-income students. Dropout rates are higher in states and cities with greater income inequality, and even higher for poorer children in those areas. A college degree is considered almost a prerequisite for a good job in today’s economy, but economic barriers remain high. The average college graduate owes over $39,000 in student loans—put together, Americans owe $620 billion more in student loan debt than they do in credit card debt. This section of the Spotlight website gathers the latest research, news and opinion on education and poverty.