Posted by: Barry | February 12, 2010

More education = less poverty: the ABLE Families equation

ABLE Families’ mission is to “confront the systemic causes poverty by supporting families as they make positive changes in their lives.”  Of course, there are plenty of “systemic causes of poverty” one could choose to confront, and plenty of ways to support families in making positive changes.  But ABLE Families has chosen to do this, for fifteen years now, primarily through educational programs

I recently came across a study that illustrates well the close connection between (a lack of) education and poverty.  The more formal education a person has, the more money, on average, they’re able to make.  Furthermore, the report emphasizes that in the years ahead, educational achievement will be tied even more closely with financial success than it has been in the past.

“America’s Dynamic Workforce” was published in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Labor.  The entire report (about 70 pages) can be found as a .pdf file here.  But the section I found most relevant to our work at ABLE Families is chapter 4, which begins on page 32.  It’s called “A Labor Force that Learns.”

In that chapter, we learn that in 1970, more than 36% of the U.S. workforce had not finished high school and another 38% had no education beyond high school.  That’s more than 74% of the workforce with no more than a high school diploma.   At the same time, less than 15% had a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

Fast forward to 2007.  A tiny 9.8% of the workforce had no high school diploma, and just under 30% had achieved only that.  That’s about 40% of the workforce with no more than a high school diploma now.  At the same time, 33.6% had a bachelor’s degree or higher.  (See page 33.)

It seems reasonable to say that in another 10 or 20 years, an even greater portion of people entering the workforce will be doing it with bachelor’s degree in hand.  So what good is that?

Other stats in that chapter make clear what most of us know by experience: the more formal education we have, the more money we make.  People with a college degree make, on average, two and a half time more than those with no high school diploma — which amount to an average difference of over $33,000 a year.  (See page 34.)  Wow. 

There’s a bit more worth considering.  Median weekly earnings for people with no high school diploma, with only a high school diploma, and with some college education have all gone down since 1979.  Only median weekly earnings of those with a college degree has gone up, and it’s gone up significantly.  (See page 35.)

There’s more important information in that chapter, but it all underlines what should be clear from these numbers: Getting a good education is one of the surest ways of avoiding poverty. 

Can someone without a college degree become financially successful?  They can, of course, especially those with strong drive and important skills.  But it seems there’s no better way to clear the roadblocks from the path away from poverty than to get an education.

That’s why ABLE Families maintains a high quality Afterschool program, working hard to get Mingo County kids off to a strong start in their educational careers.  It’s also why we maintain an adult education program that helps people prepare for their General Equivalency Diploma (GED) exam. 

And — to share just a little hint at some upcoming excitement around here — there are at least 2 new initiatives in the works here at ABLE Families (one of which we’ll announce one week from today, the other in a month or two) that will provide important new tools and opportunities for people in our area to gain access to and succeed in higher education.


  1. Many of our youth now-a-days cannot afford to go to school because of poverty.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: