Lack of education opportunities = income inequality

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The Annie E Casey Foundation just released their latest Kids Count report on early childhood education and welfare. It’s always a good read, but one image really caught my attention.

Check it out:  Among parents or caregivers, more than half of those in higher-income families hold at minimum a Bachelor’s degree whereas more than half of those in low-income families hold at most a high school diploma.

What does that mean for those families? It means that the children of those families start out with a disadvantage, and may never catch up. The Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP) has explored poverty in Oregon in depth over the years, and they found this about poverty’s impact on student learning and achievements:

It’s no secret that children who grow up in poverty face serious obstacles to learning. Compared to better-off children, poor kids are more likely to be exposed to pollution, toxins, noise and crime. They are more likely to experience family instability and separation, as well as hunger and violence.

Such conditions produce chronic levels of stress, impairing children’s cognitive abilities. And research in the field of neurobiology indicates that poverty early in life harms a child’s brain development.

Not surprisingly, children who grow up in poverty lag in their educational achievement compared to better-off kids.

“Fifty years of social science research has confirmed, over and over again, that the best predictor of student achievement is not teacher quality or any other school influence, but the social and economic circumstances of the children,” says Richard Rothstein, a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute and former national education columnist of The New York Times.

Which means that the children growing up in low-income homes are less likely to become college graduates or beyond. And what does that mean? The same scenario displayed in the chart above continues, grows, and perpetuates. In other words, low-income children are more likely to become low-income providers.

Unless we can change the system. As it currently stands, poverty begets poverty and grows the ever-widening income inequality in Oregon. But this is because of a lack of education opportunities.


Investing in Pre-K education leads to greater achievements in K-12 education, higher education, and beyond. Not only does this investment work to address some of these current societal inequities, it’s also policy that is incredibly good for our economy. States with a highly educated workforce have median wages nearly 33% higher than those states without.

The connection is clear. Investing in our students’ education is one of the first, best steps our state can take towards decreasing income inequality in Oregon.

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