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Economic mobility depends on education

Earlier this year, the Brookings Institution published an in-depth study of economic mobility characteristics among socioeconomically disadvantaged young people. In it, researchers used data to predict economic mobility for four different groups based on their circumstances as teenagers.

Researchers used four socioeconomic disadvantages to select study subjects. To be included in the study, a subject had to experience at least one of the following circumstances:

  • Living in a low income household
  • Low parental educational attainment (no post-secondary degrees)
  • Having a child early in adulthood (aged 19 or lower)
  • Receiving some form of public assistance

Subjects were sorted into four groups. Group 1 subjects (22%) were the most economically disadvantaged as adults. By the age of 30, half of the subjects in this group were living below the poverty line. They have negligible annual earnings of less than $4,000 on average.

Half of Group 2 (36%) were classified as “working poor.” Half lived below 200% of the federal poverty line. While this group earns about $19,000 on average, they also live on the margins of society.

Group 3 members (34%) have achieved some sort of economic independence. Members of this group are not impoverished, with a median annual income of $42,000. They have significant economic mobility compared to Groups 1 and 2.

Group 4 members (9%) have a median annual income of nearly $100,000. They had the highest degree of economic mobility.

Among those four groups, women most often found in Groups 1 and 2. In fact, women and Black people are disproportionately represented in there. In other words, poverty is concentrated at a rate in the study groups that is higher than their representation in the actual population. Economic mobility is lowest among these two groups.

Economic mobility depends on education

The conclusions from the study were that education is a major separator between Groups 2 and 3 membership. Those without sufficient education had a much lower chance of escaping poverty during their working lives. Further, going to a two-or four-year post secondary school was not always a predictor of any particular group membership, but degree completion was a significant concern. Only 6 out of 10 students who enroll in a post-secondary institution completed a degree within six years. Failing to complete a degree was the most likely outcome for people who enrolled in community colleges.

Washtenaw Community College’s strategy of moving away from degree programs and toward non-degree certificates creates an overall negative outcome for its students. Instead of removing barriers to degree completion, WCC ensures that its students don’t complete degrees at all!

I’m pretty sure that economic sabotage is not what the people of Washtenaw County had in mind when they created and funded WCC.

Photo Credit: Pictures of Money , via Flickr