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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Schools vs. poverty: Poverty usually wins

Education doesn’t guarantee social mobility, writes Rachel M. Cohen in The Atlantic.

“In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education,” Barack Obama declared in his 2010 State of the Union address.

It ain’t necessarily so, writes Cohen.

Geography plays a big role in whether a child born to low-income parents will rise to the top of the economic ladder, concluded a 2014 study led by Stanford’s Raj Chetty.

The economists found that “a poor child raised in San Jose, or Salt Lake City, has a much greater chance of reaching the top than a poor child raised in Baltimore, or Charlotte,” writes Cohen. “They concluded that five correlated factors — segregation, family structure, income inequality, local school quality, and social capital — were likely to make a difference.”

In a new working paper, Berkeley economist Jesse Rothstein found that school quality makes less of a difference than local labor markets (clear career pathways, union jobs, higher wages) and marriage patterns (concentrations of married or single-parent households).

“We can’t educate people out of this problem,” Rothstein concludes.

Via Matt Yglesias on Vox, here’s a Center for American Progress chart showing that low-income Americans have more schooling than their parents’ generation:

Here’s a left-wing take on “educationalizing” poverty.

I wrote a chapter in Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility.

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