The Effects of Poverty on Education in the United States

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Posted on 11/4/2013

Statistics on Poverty and Education in the United States

  • The poverty rate in U.S. is close to 15%, meaning 1 in 6 Americans live at or below the poverty level.
  • More than 1 in 5 children in the U.S are living in poverty
  • The poverty rate for single-mother households is 31%, meaning almost 1 in 3 single mothers live in poverty.
  • 6.8 million children, or about 1 in 11 of all children in the U.S., live at 50 percent below the federal poverty line.
  • 30% of children raised in poverty do not finish high school.
  • People who do not earn a high school diploma by age 20 are 7 times more likely to be persistently poor between ages 25 and 30.
  • Children who grow up impoverished complete fewer years of schooling and earn much lower income than people who did not grow up poor.
  • Children who grow up poor in the U.S. are more likely to be in poor health.

Shifting Demographics

The effects of poverty on children is complex and causes a range of diverse challenges for children and their families. Although the economy of the United States is showing signs of improvement, poverty remains a serious issue in many states, particularly in the South. According to a report published recently by the Southern Education Foundation, the impact of poverty on education among schoolchildren living in the South is an urgent problem.

While found in large proportions throughout the United States, the numbers of low-income students attending public schools in the South and in the West are extraordinarily high. Thirteen of the 21 states with a majority of low-income students in 2013 were located in the South, and 6 of the other 21 states were in the West.

At 71 percent, Mississippi had the highest proportion of students in public schools from low-income families. Twelve of the next 14 with the highest rates of low-income students were Southern states. The nation’s third highest rate was found in Louisana, where 65 percent of all public school students were lowincome in 2013, followed by Arkansas and Oklahoma with 61 percent.

“No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low -income students simply a matter of fairness… Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future” – Southern Education Foundation

The Effects of Poverty on Education

Despite being one of the most developed countries in the world, the United States has one of the highest rates of childhood poverty globally. Children born or raised in poverty face a number of disadvantages, most evidently in education. Poverty reduces a child’s readiness for school because it leads to poor physical health and motor skills, diminishes a child’s ability to concentrate and remember information, and reduces attentiveness, curiosity and motivation.   

One of the most severe effects of poverty in the United States is that poor children enter school with this readiness gap, and it grows as they get older. Children feel alienated from society; suffer insecurities because of their socioeconomic status; fear the consequences of their poverty; endure feelings of powerlessness; and are angry at society’s inability to aid in their struggles.

Children from lower-income families are more likely than students from wealthier backgrounds to have lower test scores, and they are at higher risk of dropping out of school. Those who complete high school are less likely to attend college than students from higher-income families. For some children, the effects of poverty on education present unique challenges in breaking the cycle of generational poverty and reduce their chances of leading rewarding, productive lives.

Ending the Cycle of Poverty

Since 1952, Childund has worked to combat child poverty in the United States.The Childfund Just Read! program teaches reading skills to children who may not have the opportunity to learn otherwise. We work to engage children in reading with stories and characters they can relate to. Our volunteers make reading fun for them, and it has a lasting, positive impact on their lives and the community at large. As they grow, the kids we read to help the younger generation, while taking advantage of opportunities like employment placement and internships.

One of the most effective ways you can invest in a child's life and bring hope to his or her family is by becoming a part of Guardian Angels, a child protection program. Help protect children from unspeakable exploitation and abuse, prevent child trafficking, and improve access to healthcare and education. Your generosity will make a world of difference to a child in need. Become the change today!