Low Education = High Health Risks

Our guest blogger is Robin Chait, a Senior Education Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

At an education meeting yesterday, Mike Smith — Education Program Director at the Hewlett Foundation — recounted a sad story from a recent meeting with Superintendents. One of the Superintendents said that he had been going to a lot of funerals of students in his district lately. The others asked why, was there an increase in gang violence? The Superintendent responded no. The deaths were from cavities. Children in America are dying from cavities.

An article in the Washington Post today reports on a study that finds “the difference in death rates between highly educated and poorly educated people in the United States is very wide and growing wider.” While the study can’t conclude that low educational attainment causes increases in mortality, clearly there is a relationship between the two. The failure to improve education for disadvantaged students has implications for the health of our population, and the failure to provide adequate health care for all has implications for educational achievement.

It’s not that educational achievement can’t be improved without addressing the health of students, or that we couldn’t improve health outcomes without first increasing educational attainment. It’s that the consequences of not addressing either exacerbate both. When only about 50% of poor and minority students are graduating high school nationally, there’s a critical need for a greater national investment in addressing this problem. What we’ve had over the past eight years is little new funding for improving low performing schools. And we know that people with health insurance are generally healthier and that income is associated with having health insurance. When 19.3% of children in poverty are uninsured, it’s clear we have a national crisis on our hands.

It’s also clear that the Bush administration hasn’t made the needs of low-income people a priority in any policy arena.