CHART: How Income Inequality Contributes To A Growing Education Gap That Is Jeopardizing Our Middle Class

As ThinkProgress has reported, American income inequality has skyrocketed over the last three decades. The wealthiest Americans have captured a large share of the nation’s economic prosperity, and their incomes continue to rise even as middle class wages remain stagnant. This income inequality has serious repercussions for the middle class, jeopardizing their economic ability and their political power.

But it doesn’t just affect people who are currently in the workforce. It has also contributed to a growing education gap that is affecting low- and middle-income children, according to a Center for American Progress report on income inequality and the middle class. The lowest-achieving students from high-income backgrounds are more likely to obtain a college education than the highest achieving students from low-income backgrounds, the report showed:

Perhaps most stunningly, there is evidence that low-income children who demonstrate aptitude for postsecondary education do not have the same access as children from higher-income backgrounds. The U.S. Department of Education reports that the probability that a top-scoring low-income student completes college is about the same as the probability that a low-scoring high-income student does, while the probability that a top-scoring middle-income student completes college is about as likely as a middle-scoring high-income student.

As income inequality continues to increase, the gap in educational attainment is growing too. The achievement gap between high- and low-income students is 30 to 40 percent larger than it was a generation ago, according to the paper, and income inequality is the primary reason. Areas of the country in which the middle class makes a higher share of income, meanwhile, demonstrate higher scores on achievement tests.


These problems lead to cycles of inequality that persist through generations. As Alan Krueger, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, notes, the future economic mobility of American children is more closely tied to their parents’ income than it is in any other developed country. That means that rising income inequality, and the growing education gap it leads to, is jeopardizing the future for millions of American children before they even have a chance to change it.