Forecast: more poverty ahead
A growing share of children are in poverty across our region. The percent of low-income K-12 students in Minnesota increased from 23% in 1990 to 39% in 2011. Surrounding states show similar trends, though North Dakota fared somewhat better. Nationally, the rate climbed from 32% in 1990 to 51% in 2011. (For why this matters, see What’s the price of poverty? from our April newsletter.)
If we dissect the data further for Minnesota, it seems the trend may continue into the future. The chart below shows that 34% of tenth-graders in 2011 received free or reduced lunch. In the same year, 42% of first-graders received free or reduced lunch. If these trends hold, we’ll soon see four out of 10 high school graduates coming from low-income families.
The increasing proportion of high school graduates coming from low-income families poses a serious challenge for our state and nation. There is overwhelming evidence the children from low-income families have dramatically lower rates of enrollment in college and completion of a college degree than do their middle- and upper-income peers. And, in the 21st century, most young people will not find a path to a middle class income without success in higher education. This cycle of poverty leading to educational failure and further poverty is the new achievement gap challenge facing higher education in Minnesota and the nation.