The Role of Child Poverty in Education
By Pam Goins, CSG Director of Education Policy
The more education a person attains, the better the chance he or she will get a job, earn a living, support a family, pay taxes and contribute to the community in which he or she lives.
That’s according to a 2012 analysis of data by The Pew Charitable Trust’s Economic Mobility Project. But median family income has declined by 7 percent since 2000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, increasing the probability that a child born into poverty will remain in poverty.
“For the first time in history, more than half of all children in the South qualify for free and reduced lunch. Education alone won’t reverse this trend,” Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said. “State policymakers must find ways to shake up the status quo by realigning traditional programs within a more contemporary context; one which creates pathways to prosperity and motivates more (people) to explore them.”
Norris hopes to help change the negative impact of child poverty during his tenure as the 2014 chairman of The Council of State Governments. He is calling his Workforce Development and Education Initiative “State Pathways to Prosperity.” To kick it off, CSG will host a complimentary webinar on the related topic “State Strategies to End Child Poverty as a Barrier to Educational Success” on Feb. 20.
A recent report by Educational Testing Service showed poor children completed two fewer years of school, earned less than half as much money, worked 451 fewer hours per year, received $826 per year more in food stamps, and were nearly three times as likely to have poor health than children whose families had incomes of at least twice the poverty line during their early childhood. Poor males were twice as likely to get arrested and poor females were five times more likely to have a child out of wedlock.
Among the world’s 35 richest countries, the United States ranks second highest in rates of childhood poverty; achievement gaps between the poor and the non-poor is twice as large as the achievement gap between black and white students, according to UNICEF’s 2012 report, “Measuring Child Poverty.”
Child poverty typically has long-lasting effects on a student’s educational achievement levels. Readiness for school at the prekindergarten age sets the trajectory for a child’s academic career, the National Institute for Early Education Research has found. If a child starts significantly below his or her peers due to a lack of early childhood education or no engagement academically, he or she rarely closes that gap, researchers said. Stanford professor Sean F. Reardon has found students living in poverty score two years lower than their peers by the fourth grade; the achievement gap grows to four years by the time they reach 12th grade. These delays enhance a lack of opportunities for employment as they reach adulthood.
The National Education Association reports that children living in poverty are at an increased risk of dropping out of school, which makes for an uncertain employability in a career that could support a family. In persistently impoverished families, children have lower cognitive and academic performance and show an increased likelihood of behavioral problems than those not exposed to poverty, according to the NEA.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has gathered data on child well-being for years. Its 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book shows that since 2005, children in poverty have continued to see improvement in education and health. But the issue of poverty still poses challenges.
“The progress we’re seeing in child health and education is encouraging, but the economic data clearly speak to the considerable challenges we still face,” Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data, said in a recent press release. “We need to do better and be smarter about investing in effective programs and services to help ensure all kids get the best possible start in life.”