College education a way out of poverty (in words, picture) | The Bell Policy Center

College education a way out of poverty (in words, picture)

economic mobilityPoverty is on the rise across America, in cities and even suburbs, and is expected to hit levels not seen since the 1960s, according to a survey of think tanks, academics and economists conducted by the Associated Press.

The rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent of Americans, and the estimate from the survey is that it will reach as high as 15.7 for 2011, the most recent year of data collection. Even if it rises to 15.2 percent, it will be the highest level since 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty. The low mark for poverty was 11.1 percent, in 1973.

In a story about the AP survey, Peter Edelman of Georgetown University pointed to long-term issues beyond the recession as factors that are driving down median household income, specifically outsourcing, globalization, immigration and a decline in unionization. The 2010 federal poverty level was $11,130 for an individual and $22,314 for a family of four.

The AP also predicts an increase in suburban poverty, which reached a record high of 11.8 percent in 2010, and child poverty, which was reported at 22 percent the same year. The poverty rate among part-time or underemployed workers, which also reached a record high in 2010, is projected to continue climbing as well. The U.S. Census Bureau will release official 2011 poverty figures this fall.

In a posting last week, we noted a recent study by the Pew Center on the States showing that, even though incomes have increased from one generation to the next, many Americans have experienced static or downward mobility.

However, one finding in the report stood out for us: A college education is almost a guaranteed ticket out of poverty. Ninety-percent of Americans raised in the poorest families who had a college education experienced upward mobility, and 53% moved into the middle class or above.  (See graphic below.)

Additionally, a college education safeguards against downward economic mobility – 39 percent of Americans without a college degree fell from the middle, while only 22 percent of those with a degree suffered the same fate.

With poverty levels rising, now is an important time to ensure that all Coloradans have access to affordable post-secondary education. College offers a clear path for low-income families to escape poverty, establish self-sufficiency and enter the Cycle of Opportunity.

– Kathleen Hallgren

economic mobility