Washington Post: For the First Time in History, Majority of U.S. Public School Students are in Poverty

The Washington Post reported last week that “for the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students” in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade live in poverty. In Maryland, 43 percent of students live in poverty. In Virginia, 39 percent. In the District of Columbia, the poverty-rate for school-aged children is an alarming 61%. “The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college,” the Post says. In fact, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 16 to 24-years-old students who come from low income families are seven times more likely to drop out than those from families with higher incomes.

There’s no doubt that the dropout crisis directly affects the U.S. economy. Over the course of a student’s lifetime, a high school dropout earns, on average, about $260,000 less than a high school graduate and contributes about $60,000 less in taxes. Conservative estimates show that the nation’s economy would have benefited over time from nearly $335 billion in additional income if the students who dropped out of the Class of 2009 had graduated. Overall, young people who drop out are twice as likely as graduates to be unemployed; three times as likely to live in poverty; eight times more likely to wind up in prison; and twice as likely to become the parent of a child who drops out of school. The economic benefits of increasing the graduation rate among students are evident. For example, if the male graduation rate were increased by only five percent, the nation would see an annual savings of $4.9 billion in crime-related costs.

Junior Achievement of Greater Washington understands that this is, in fact, a “watershed moment” for our region and for our nation that impacts not just individual students and their ability to navigate their path to the American Dream, but the future of American competitiveness. As the International Labor Organization states, “What our young people do today will create the foundations for what our economies will do tomorrow.”

Through its innovative, hands-on financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship K-12 programs, taught by a role model volunteer, Junior Achievement of Greater Washington is changing these statistics. In fact, the graduation rate among students who took part in two JA experiences was 93%, compared to 80% nationally. 77% of students with a JA experience pursued post-secondary education, as compared to 69% of students without a JA program. And, 83% of  students who had at least one JA experience report that they were confident they could control their destiny, as compared to just 56% of students who didn’t have a JA program.