With more than one in five children living in poverty, the United States faces worsening educational, economic, and social consequences if nothing is done to address the problem, a new report published by the Educational Testing Service finds.
According to the report, Poverty and Education: Finding the Way Forward (60 pages, PDF), the official poverty rate for children in the U.S. is 15 percent — the second highest among the thirty-five richest countries in the world — although the Supplementary Poverty Measure puts the rate at 22 percent, with 2.8 million children living in extreme poverty. Researchers estimate that such high poverty rates cost the country $500 billion a year in lower earnings, lost tax revenue, and other negative long-term effects.
The study found that poor children are more likely to be raised in single-parent families, are more likely to be exposed to tobacco smoke and lead, and are more likely to be food insecure. Moreover, environmental factors associated with poverty influence both the educational opportunities available to poor children and the outcomes they can be expected to achieve, while federal education programs designed to address the relationship between a child's economic status and his or her educational outcomes do little to counter-balance the inequities in local school finance systems. With that in mind, the report recommends more and equitable funding for public schools, expanding access to high-quality preschool education, reducing segregation by income and race/ethnicity, and recognizing the critical importance of high-quality teachers.
"While education has been envisioned as the great equalizer, this promise has been more myth than reality," said Bruce Baker, a Rutgers University Graduate School of Education professor and a co-author of the report. "Not only is the achievement gap between the poor and the non-poor twice as large as the achievement gap between black and white students, but tracked differences in the cognitive performances of students in every age group show substantial differences by income or poverty status. These differences undoubtedly contribute to the increasing stratification of who attends and graduates from college, limiting economic and social mobility and serving to perpetuate the gap between rich and poor."