Education is one of the best ways to get ahead in America. So, why do so many young people from poor backgrounds drop out? An economic paper published this month by the Brookings Institution suggests one possible answer, and it has nothing to do with grades or test scores. Maybe, for kids who grow up poor, with evidence of inequality all around them, dropping out of school just seems like the rational choice. 

It should be the opposite. Most economists would say, kids who start out at the bottom of the economic heap should have the incentive to get as much education as possible. Many economists believe the problem really comes down to skills. Young people trying to climb up out of poverty want to be highly educated, the thinking goes. They just don't get the right skills and training along the way. In this model, the education system itself is where the problem occurs, and that's where the fix is needed.

But the new Brookings paper by economists Melissa Kearney and Philip Levine (who we previously mentioned here) suggests the problem lies elsewhere.

flickr, from 401calulator.org

The Atlantic is hosting its annual Summit on the Economy today in Washington D.C. You can follow the live webcast here, or in the embedded video below. 

You've already missed former Treasure Secretary Larry Summers and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, but you can catch some of what they said by following #AtlanticEcon on Twitter. 

Here's some highlights so far: 

user alamosbasement / flickr

America is becoming less equal.

That much is now widely acknowledged.

But what can be done to improve things for the next generation?

We’ve been doing this work on State of Opportunity for nearly three years now. If there’s one thing I’ve heard over and over about how to help kids get ahead, it’s this: Education is the key.

"Once you’ve made it to college and graduated, your social mobility opportunities are great," said Fabian Pfeffer.

"Putting people into more post-secondary education would strongly promote their mobility," said Erin Currier.

"We’re talking about producing skills," said James Heckman. "Skills are the core of the modern economy."

If you want a good job, you have to have skills. If you want skills, you have to have education. That’s pretty uncontroversial.

But then I came across the work of this guy:

It's a little on the economist/wonky side, but this column puts together some compelling research that what is driving the wage gap and rising income inequality is not that enough people aren't educated and able to get good jobs. Instead, it might be that too many people are under-employed and that middle class jobs don't pay enough. And then there's this zinger. “There is good reason to resist the proposition that education and technology are solely responsible for growing inequality.It provides political leaders an excuse to cast the problem as beyond the reach of policy.”

What's next for affirmative action?

Jun 24, 2013
supreme court of the united states
NCinDC / flickr

  The message from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision yesterday in Fisher v. University of Texas is pretty clear. Race-based affirmative action is still around. But just for now.

As early as the Court's next term in fact, there is another high profile Michigan case ready to play a central role in what is still an active fight over affirmative action's future.

Pew Economic Mobility Project

This chart comes from a report released yesterday by the Pew Economic Mobility Project. The report looked at the effects of unemployment on American families. Overall, the report says one third of families in America experienced some form of unemployment between 1999 - 2009. But minority families were far more likely to be affected. Forty-one percent of black families and 51 percent of Latino families experienced unemployment during the period, compared to 30 percent of whites. 

Inequality begins at home?

Mar 8, 2013

Check out this new animation by Dalton Conley. I wish there were more things like this out there! (If you know of any send them our way.)

The reason I like this is because it's giving me information I didn't have, that when resources are scarce even families tend to pick winners and losers. Then, it's helping me understand why that's true. There's no hard data in this little snippet, but it's given me a lot to think about and more questions. And, it took less than two minutes! To us in radio, that is quite a feat. 

Education and the inequality of opportunity

Sep 7, 2012
SvobodalT / flickr

I’m new to State of Opportunity. Before I begin writing regular posts I want to tell you a little bit about myself. It isn’t very often that readers get a glimpse into the personal lives of reporters.

My personal narrative in part explains why issues like those we explore in State of Opportunity are so important.

I was raised in what is quickly becoming the typical American family. My mother provided for my sister and me through working as a secretary and monthly child support payments.