Parents’ Lack of Schooling Limits Incomes•
A poor education is the cement that holds many Iowa families and their children in poverty.
• Iowa’s unemployment rate for workers without high school degrees was about 10 percent last year, more than four times greater than the rate for workers with bachelor’s degrees.
Even during boom times, the difference is significant: In 2007, before the recession hit Iowa, 1.5 percent of workers with bachelor’s degrees were unemployed, compared to 7.9 percent of workers without high school diplomas.
• The percentage of adults without high school diplomas grows to nearly 30 percent in areas of extreme poverty.
Parents’ lack of education often translates into poverty for their children and increases the likelihood that their children will struggle in school, research shows.
In Des Moines’ poorest neighborhoods —the city’s core — a quarter of residents have not finished high school, compared with 9 percent in all of Polk County.
“No bones about it, getting an education is key” to escaping poverty, said Teree Caldwell-Johnson, executive director of Oakridge Neighborhood, a public housing development in Des Moines where 1,100 low-income families live. She’s also a member of the Des Moines school board and is working with a Greater Des Moines Partnership group to reduce poverty in the capital’s most distressed neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the need for a skilled workforce is becoming greater, experts say. By 2018, three of every five jobs in Iowa are expected to require some training after high school.
“We need to focus on skill development and give people the tools necessary” to move into those high-skilled jobs, Caldwell-Johnson said.
Beth Paradine, 24, of Waterloo believes her lack of education has limited her job options, and she wants better for her kids.
Paradine received her diploma from an alternative high school shortly after giving birth to her first son. She went on to attend Kaplan University for nearly a year but didn’t complete a degree.
The jobs she now qualifies for? “They’re not good ones,” said Paradine, a single mother of Dakota, 5, and Slyler, 1.
Still, competition for minimum-wage positions is intense. She was out of work 2½ years before being hired in May to staff the overnight drive-through at a Wendy’s for 28 to 36 hours a week. She also relies on help from relatives and food assistance to get by.
A state study released this spring shows that her long job search is not unusual. Too many low-skilled Iowa workers are competing to fill too few unskilled positions, the report states. Yet Iowa’s employers struggle to fill “middle-skilled jobs,” positions requiring some college education, according to the report.
“These broader economic changes are not going to stop,” said Tom Mortenson, an Oskaloosa resident and scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington, D.C. “You have to deal with the growing educational attainment requirements of the economy with the population you have by targeting your investments on the people who need them.”
Opportunity Nation, a nonpartisan national campaign aimed at improving social mobility, endorses career and technical training as a way to connect businesses to their future workforce.
Charles Bruner, executive director of the Child & Family Policy Center in Des Moines, believes the state and federal government should target more dollars to workforce training after high school age.
The best first step, though, is a high school diploma, Caldwell-Johnson said.
“Do we need to create an expectation that every kid in the urban core will graduate and go to college?” she asked, banging the table with each word. “Absolutely.
“We have to create not only the expectation, but we need to back that up and create the opportunity,” she said. “I’m not convinced it will take a lot of money. It might just be taking the money we spend now and using it better.”
Paradine doesn’t think she’ll ever go back to school. Her parents were both incarcerated during her childhood. The father of her children is also behind bars.
She hopes Dakota, a precocious child, will break the cycle.
“He’s got smarts,” she said. “Nowadays you need a college education to get a job, it seems.”