Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Long Shadow of Poverty

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Long Shadow of Poverty

Article excerpt

Children born into poverty are unlikely to escape it, even if they have better opportunities through education, according to a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Researchers Karl Alexander, the late Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson followed 790 students from 20 of Baltimore's public elementary schools over nearly three decades. They interviewed students almost every year while they were in school, beginning in 1st grade, and then every few years after they reached adulthood. In early December, their research study, The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood (Russell Sage Foundation, 2014), received the prestigious 2016 Grawemeyer Award in Education, which includes a $100,000 award.

After three years, Alexander and Entwisle had enough data to show that by 2nd grade, children from poorer families and neighborhoods had fallen behind their wealthier peers. "To see just 4% of poor kids in our study complete college is just shocking. That's upsetting to me," Alexander said. By contrast, 45% of students from middle-class backgrounds went to college, the researchers found.

Poor children fared worse than wealthier ones across an array of adult issues, the researchers found. Among the most compelling findings:

* By age 28, 45% of the white men from low-income backgrounds without college degrees were working in construction trades and industrial crafts in Baltimore, compared with 15% of the black men from similar backgrounds. The white men earned, on average, more than twice what the black men made in those higher-paying trades. Alexander and Entwisle found that white men were finding their jobs through informal, word-on-the-street hiring networks of which black men were not part.

* White and black women from low-income households in the study group had similar teen birth rates, but the white women more often had a spouse or partner.

* "Better-off" white men in the study had the highest self-reported rates of drug use, binge drinking, and chronic smoking, followed by white men from poor families. …

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