More than one in five of all U.S. children live in “official” poverty today and the rate is even higher for Black and Hispanic children and for children in families headed by a single parent. Among the world’s 35 richest countries, the United States holds the dubious distinction of ranking second highest in child poverty (only Romania’s rate is higher). Why does this matter? Poverty has severe consequences for individuals as well as for of our society, our economy, and our democracy. A large body of research documents the negative effects of poverty on children and on their later life outcomes. Children growing up in poverty complete less schooling, work and earn less as adults, are more likely to receive public assistance, and have poor health. Boys growing up in poverty are more likely to be arrested as adults and their female peers are more likely to give birth outside of marriage. The poor are also less likely to vote and to be civically engaged. Researchers have estimated that the costs associated with child poverty total about $500 billion per year, or 4 percent of our GDP.
While education has been envisioned as the great equalizer, this promise has been more myth than reality. Today, the achievement gap between the poor and the non-poor is twice as large as the achievement gap between Black and White students. The tracking of differences in the cognitive performance of toddlers, elementary and middle school students, and college-bound seniors shows substantial differences by income and/or poverty status. These differences undoubtedly contribute to the increasing stratification in who attends and graduates from college, limiting economic and social mobility and serving to perpetuate the gap between rich and poor. As our country’s demographics continue to change, it is critical that we prepare all of our children to be successful in an increasingly competitive world. // Richard J. Coley
(Adapted from Richard J. Coley and Bruce Baker, Poverty and Education: Finding the Way Forward, ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education, July 2013.)