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Education and Poverty in America

Six years ago the United Nations Millennium Development Goals identified poverty reduction and essential aspects of human development to be at the core of economic development. The number one international development goal is to eradicate poverty and hunger and the second is to achieve universal primary education. The focus on income provides a clear way of assessing the extent of impoverishment for the sake of marking achievements and failures since data on non-income disparities can provide ambiguous results.

However, there is consensus among the international community that poverty, particularly long-term poverty, is a much more complex phenomenon. Universal primary education has been shown to be a crucial element in breaking the cross-generational cycle of poverty and a fundamental building block for sustainable development (United Nations, 2006). The poverty rate continues to rise in the United States. In 2000, the overall U. S. poverty rate was 9. 3%, and the poverty rate among female-headed households with children and no spouse was 35. 4%. By comparison, in 2005, the overall U. S. poverty rate was 10.1%, and the poverty rate among female-headed households with children and no spouse was 37. 6 percent (U. S. Census Bureau, 2006).

“We must make two years of college – the 13th and 14th years of education – as universal for young Americans as the first 12 are today. And, we must make college affordable for all Americans” (Clinton, 1997). “The question I like to ask every child I visit in the classroom is, ‘Are you going to college? ‘ In this great country, we expect every child regardless of how he or she is raised, to go to college. That’s the goal we want every child to have” (Bush, 2001).

Yet, despite the inspiring policy pronouncements of both Presidents Clinton and Bush, the United States has not extended this commitment of educational opportunity to recipients of the nation’s welfare program. In fact, recent policy has placed welfare recipients in a class by themselves – denied the opportunities to pursue this traditional avenue of upward mobility (Center for Women Policy Studies, 2002). Thus, a discussion of the benefits education may yield in a capitalistic society, which value independence will provide information towards providing opportunities for impoverished family members on welfare.

This paper examines and discusses how education is important to the poor to get rid of poverty in America. Then it discussed the importance higher education may have with former welfare recipients as individuals and society as a whole. Poverty and Welfare System in U. S. From the inception of the U. S. welfare system, a dichotomy of opinion has existed regarding how to reform this system. Policy-makers disagree about the best way to move people from the welfare roles and into productive work that will enable them to escape poverty. As a result, two primary strategies to welfare reform exist; they are “education-first” and “work-first”.

Gueron and Hamilton (2002) described proponents of “education-first” as adherent to placing adults on welfare into postsecondary or vocational training programs before requiring them to work. These proponents view reforms that substitute work for welfare as insufficient if there is no increase in income. Proponents of “work-first” strategies place greater emphasis on reducing the welfare roles and saving government money. These proponents advocate strategies that move people quickly into jobs, even if the jobs pay low wages and do not offer job-related benefits.

Furthermore, proponents of “work-first” argue that in any labor market, the welfare population will remain in poverty regardless of their educational experiences (Gueron & Hamilton, 2002). Moreover, Gueron and Hamilton reported that these two welfare strategies are an ongoing effort to balance two goals, reducing poverty and ending government dependency, and that policymakers on all sides favor these goals. However, policy-makers disagree on which strategy, “education-first” or “work-first”, will be the most effective in achieving the goals of reducing poverty and ending government dependency.

The passage of The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996 replaced the AFDC program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act marked a transformation in welfare reform that resulted in a change from an “education-first” strategy to a “work-first” strategy. Subsequently, welfare recipients were encouraged to obtain a job rather than to seek adult educational experiences in order to receive program assistance.

President Clinton and most members of Congress believed that for the first time since its creation in 1935 that a reasonable and workable welfare strategy had been chosen to encourage and enable welfare recipients to escape poverty (Perkins & Homer, 2002). Job Attainment Jobs are considered the cornerstone of escaping poverty. Perkins and Homer (2002) reported most poor people work and wages accounts for the major source of income for poor people. Thus, an impoverished individual’s ability to obtain a job is essential to understanding his/her ability to live above the poverty line.

In addition, job attainment is the final goal and outcome TANF measures for its recipients. Earned Income According to Perkins and Homer (2002), current welfare recipients earn an average $6. 78 per hour; thus many recipients remain in poverty and are considered the working poor. The working poor refer to people who are employed and earn wages but still live below the poverty line. Some are employed full-time, and some are employed half-time. However, wages make up the main portion of their family’s income (Perkins and Homer, 2002).

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