Poverty and Education
The recently released Census report on the state of poverty in the United States confirms what many have suspected for some time, this recession has reversed many quality of life gains made by Americans, especially the middle-class, in the last decade. Another piece of disturbing news from the Census report is that Blacks and Hispanics have been disproportionally affected by the crisis. The reason I highlight this point is not to diminish or underestimate the paints others have endured but to stress the significant role education can potentially play in poverty alleviation.
Let me review some of the reports’ most relevant findings with regards to how minorities have fared in this recession. According to the Census, per capita income for Blacks went down by $201 from $18,336 to $18,135. For Hispanics, this figure shrank by $552,from $15,615 to $15,063. Household income for Blacks and Hispanics was reduced to close to 1998 levels. At the same time, Asian Americans, although they were wounded by the turmoil as well, continued to enjoy the highest income levels of any ethnic group. As is assumable from these figures, Black and Hispanic families also amounted to the largest percentage of the population who fell below the poverty line and they also constituted the greatest share of the uninsured.
There is no fluke about these numbers. Blacks and Latinos have one of lowest educational attainments around while Asian Americans surpass any group in scores. In 2007, the Census reported that close to 40 percent of all Hispanics did not finish high school; Blacks faired only slightly better with an 18 percent no graduation rate. These two groups earned just 13 and 10 percent of all Bachelors and 3 and 6 percent of the advanced degrees, respectively.
This picture sends a clear message about how much we need to continue to invest in education. To start, it is time we recognize that the notion of test driven accountability is not the only, or the whole solution for that matter, to this critical social problem. We also need to find innovative policies intended to desegregate our school districts and diminish the sense of social isolation among some minority students. All our youth deserves decent educational opportunities too, including the approximately 65,000 undocumented prospective students, many of them Hispanics, who are eagerly waiting for passage of the DREAM Act to realize their slice of the American dream.