Child Poverty and Education Attainment Disparity in the State of Alabama, USA (1990-2006)

By Izeogu, Chukudi V. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Child Poverty and Education Attainment Disparity in the State of Alabama, USA (1990-2006)


Izeogu, Chukudi V., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


1. Introduction:

Since the 1990s, Alabama's development policy has emphasized job-creation and the importance of education to individual productivity, economic well being and poverty alleviation. At the same time, the state has pursued initiatives to improve local education attainment through improvement of elementary and high school education to enhance economic well being of urban and rural communities. These policy paths attest to the view that a better educated population leads to a greater economic growth. As Gibbs has observed, a recent study indicated that rural counties with high educational levels see more rapid growth in income and earnings than over the past two decades than counties with lower educational levels (Gibbs, 2005)

In general, education, among other things, provides some of the basic skills needed in the labor markets. The level of a person's education attainment is a contributing factor in obtaining good employment and incomes, and thus a potential factor in reducing personal and household poverty. High school graduation provides teens the opportunity for entry into college or jobs which require basic educational skills that help to improve personal or family's quality of life.

Studies on high school graduation and poverty show that there is a significant relationship between high school graduation and young people's earnings. Because the basic skills conveyed in high school and higher education are essential for success in to day's economy, students who drop out and those who do not receive these skills suffer with significantly reduced earnings and employment prospects. According to Greene, (2002) "among persons over 25 years old who failed to complete high school or receive a GED, 55% report no earnings in the 1999 Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census compared to 25% of those with at least a high school degree or GED. For people reporting any earnings the median income for those who left high school without a high school diploma or GED is $15,334 compared to $29,294 for people with at least a high school degree or GED. Also, a U.S. Census Bureau Report showed that the average annual income for a high school dropout in 2005 was almost $10,000 less than that of a high school graduate (Alliance for Education Excellence, 2007). Thus, failure to graduate from high school paves the way for poverty.

A study by the Southern Education Foundation highlighted the importance of high school graduation in a state's economy including the economic consequences of dropping out of high school such as low productivity, income and crime. The study finds that Alabama's dropout rate is the biggest threat to the state's future economic growth. Furthermore, the study opines that the gap between wage earners in Alabama and the rest of the nation is mostly caused by low education attainment. Also, in 2002, students who dropped out of high school made less than 29 cents for every $1.00 the average college graduate earned" (Alabama School Journal, 2008), The study concludes that "when a young person's productivity is lessened because he or she did not finish school, it hurts all of us and slows Alabama's economic growth" (Alabama School Journal, 2008). Other studies show that the trend in the state's high school graduation rate which lags behind national averages is detrimental to the state's sustained economic growth and that high school dropout costs the state several billions of dollars that it cannot afford (Birmingham Business Journal, 2008, The Birmingham News, 2008). Other costly adverse effects include an increase in number of children in poverty, malnutrition or starvation, crime and un-healthy lifestyles such as obesity, smoking.

In order to remedy the situations described above, some people have called for more accountability of local education boards, better education funding and parental involvement and other initiatives to improve education attainment of the youth, especially minority population groups. …

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