Quality of Schools and Cost of Higher Ed are Top Concern for Low-Income Parents
With U.S. families still battling the effects of America’s bad economy, education, and the promise it holds in lifting people out of poverty and creating a better future for children, continues to be the driving force sustaining low-income families. That’s according to a new report released last week by Ascend, the family economic security program at the Aspen Institute.
Ascend commissioned a series of focus groups across the country in September and October 2011 in Detroit, New York City, Albuquerque, Los Angeles and Denver, to “…listen to the voices and understand the experiences and aspirations of low-income parents across gender, race, and family structure.” Their study surveyed parents of young children who live at 200% of poverty or less.
After reading the report, what struck us were the themes that parents consistently described and that stayed constant across all socio economic and gender lines: worries about failing public schools, about not being able to afford to pay for post-secondary education for their children, concerns that the economic instability and insecurity of their families would negatively impact their children.
This passage from the report’s key findings sums up the current state of low-income American families:
“People view education as essential for their children’s success. They find this more and more difficult to provide as children age. Education is a key value and not just a commodity. They recognize that in today’s competitive economy a bachelor’s degree and job skills training are necessary, though in a struggling economy even people with master’s degrees can’t find employment….They worry about achieving and affording higher education and skills training for themselves and their children… Low income single mothers, not surprisingly, are particularly hard pressed and at the margins economically with no cushion, in low-paying often unstable employment situations trying to improve their situation, but finding themselves short of time and money to do so. They believe good education will be key for their children and that better education is key for themselves. They worry about the quality of their children’s schools and the ability to get their children higher education. They are extremely motivated in their lives to provide a better future for their children and to help them prevent making the mistakes they made. Their goals for themselves are almost totally intertwined with their goals for their children.”
Families are struggling to make ends meet, being forced to decide whether to buy books and school supplies, or groceries. Now, with rising student tuition and the increased difficulty of finding a job even for those with college degrees, the American dream is essentially being challenged. Half a century ago, graduating from college ensured a fighting chance at upward mobility for those living in poverty. But now, with K-12 schools not preparing students for the jobs that are in demand, and with tuition increases at public universities steadily pushing a quality education further out of reach for some, to many people, education now seems less like the silver bullet of success that it once was. Declining wages and increased income equality are magnifying those effects even further, as we’ve seen with the Occupy protests.
Are these findings consistent with what you've heard in your community? Tell us what you think in the comments.