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Poor Parents' Education Is Key In Their Children's Escape From Poverty

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Washington, D.C. — Earning a high school diploma today can help break the cycle of poverty tomorrow, according to an Urban Institute HYPERLINK "http://www.urban.org/publications/412659.html" \t "_blank" study. White children born to poor high school dropouts are 12 percentage points more likely to be persistently poor (that is, poor for at least half their lives from birth through age 17) than white children whose poor parents earned a diploma. The comparable number for black children is 21 percentage points. The difference between white children whose parents did not finish 12th grade and whose parents have education beyond high school is 30 percentage points. For black children, the figure is 45 percentage points. "Children, and in particular minority children, born to poor undereducated parents face a challenging beginning and are substantially more likely to spend most of their formative years in poverty," say researchers Caroline Ratcliffe and Signe-Mary McKernan. "Connecting at-risk children to appropriate services at birth is vital, as a child's early environment can affect brain development." Using data from the University of Michigan's Panel Study of Income Dynamics, Ratcliffe and McKernan tracked, through 2008, the life trajectory of children born between 1967 and 1989.

Children born between 1967 and 1974 had lower poverty rates (13 percent) than newborns in the 1980s and 1990s (18–19 percent). The poverty rate dipped to 15 percent for infants born between 2000 and 2008, but this downward trend stalled with the Great Recession. Child poverty rates hit a nearly 20-year high in 2010 (22 percent) and remained there in 2011.

The fallout from a parent's low educational attainment hits beyond childhood experiences and into adolescent outcomes. Children whose parents did not complete high school are 18 percentage points more likely to enter their 20s without completing high school than children whose parents have some education beyond high school (even after controlling for childhood poverty and other factors). These children are also 10 percentage points more likely to drop out of high school than children whose parents earn a high school degree (but did not have additional education). " HYPERLINK "http://www.urban.org/publications/412659.html" \t "_blank" Child Poverty and Its Lasting Consequence" also finds that children poor early in life (age 0-2), for longer periods, and in a family where adults do not work are less likely to complete high school.

Among other findings Between 1967 and 2008, one of every 10 white newborns was poor, compared with four of 10 black newborns. Of those poor at birth, 30 percent of the white children and 46 percent of the black children live in deep poverty (family income below 50 percent of the federal poverty level). Children poor for half their childhoods are nearly 90 percent more likely than never-poor children to enter their 20s without completing high school (controlling for other factors). Persistently poor girls are also four times more likely to give birth outside of marriage during their teenage years. Dropping out of high school and teen childbearing, in turn, perpetuate the cycle of poverty because they are obstacles to economic success.

Children who move because of an eviction, foreclosure, or divorce are less likely to complete high school by age 20 than children who do not move or move for neutral or positive reasons. In some cases, children are forced to change schools, which introduces further instability into their lives, especially if the move occurs during the school year or does not coincide with a natural school transition (such as the switch from middle school to high school).

Because the foreclosure crisis has displaced many school-age children, Ratcliffe and McKernan point out that flexible policies to allow students to remain in their original schools could give them some stability during a difficult period and lead to higher educational attainment.

 HYPERLINK "http://www.urban.org/publications/412126.html" \t "_blank" Previous research by Ratcliffe and McKernan looked at the poverty environment for children born in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The new study considers all children born between 1967 and 2008.

"Child Poverty and Its Lasting Consequence" was supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation through the Urban Institute's HYPERLINK "http://www.urban.org/center/lwf/index.cfm" \t "_blank" Low-Income Working Families project.

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