Poverty - Percent of population (age 25 and over) below poverty by educational attainment in Pennsylvania

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Why This Indicator Matters

The poverty level, also known as the poverty line, is the lowest level of income deemed necessary for basic living standards within a given society. This level is based on the cost of food, clothing, shelter, and utilities, which are considered to be the bare minimum resources essential for survival.[1] Poverty has been associated with several poor living conditions, including homelessness, food insecurity, inadequate childcare, lack of access to healthcare, unsafe neighborhoods, and underfunded schools.[2] Research strongly suggests that all families require a strong foundation with an adequate income in order to be healthy, succeed in school, contribute to the local community, and participate in the economy.[3] Measuring economic hardship and deprivation plays a critical role in creating a world where everyone has that basic foundation.

Educational attainment refers to the highest degree or level of education completed by an individual.[4] The educational attainment achieved by the general population has gradually increased over the past decade, improving the quality of the American workforce, and allowing the United States to remain competitive within the global market.[5] Despite these increases, however, many Americans remain unable to achieve a high education level because of their low-income status. This is largely due to educational attainment having a positive correlation with average earnings, suggesting that those with higher degree levels typically earn higher wages. Children born into low-attaining, low-earning families simply lack the economic and social resources that those born into high-attaining, high-earning families use to achieve postsecondary education, perpetuating their socioeconomic status.[6] Gaps in educational attainment by family income are believed to play a significant role in accounting for income inequality and socioeconomic mobility, characterized as one’s ability to move from one social or economic class to another.[7] This is particularly evident when measuring the percent of the population below poverty by educational attainment level. Unsurprisingly, the highest percentage of individuals living in poverty have less than a high school education.

[1] Institute for Research on Poverty. (2021). How is Poverty Measured? https://www.irp.wisc.edu/resources/how-is-poverty-measured/

[2] American Psychological Association. (2009). Effects of Poverty, Hunger, and Homelessness on Children and Youth. https://www.apa.org/pi/families/poverty

[3] Center on Poverty and Inequality, Georgetown Law. (2020). Measuring Poverty: Why It Matters, & What Should & Should Not Be Done About It, 1-23. https://docs.house.gov/meetings/GO/GO24/20200205/110451/HHRG-116-GO24-Wstate-GuptaI-20200205.pdf

[4] United States Census Bureau. (2021). About Educational Attainment. https://www.census.gov/topics/education/educational-attainment/about.html

[5] United States Department of Commerce. (2021). Spotlight on U.S. Educational Attainment. https://performance.commerce.gov/stories/s/U-S-Population-Spotlight-Educational-Attainment/na47-j74r/

[6] Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI). (2014). Unequal Opportunities: Fewer Resources, Worse Outcomes for Students in Schools with Concentrated Poverty. https://thecommonwealthinstitute.org/research/unequal-opportunities-fewer-resources-worse-outcomes-for-students-in-schools-with-concentrated-poverty/

[7] Chingos, M. & Dynarski, S. (2015). How can we Track Trends in Educational Attainment by Parental Income? Hint: Not with the Current Population Survey. Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/research/how-can-we-track-trends-in-educational-attainment-by-parental-income-hint-not-with-the-current-population-survey/

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Data Provided By

Definitions: Percent of persons age 25 and over below the poverty level in past 12 months by highest level of education completed.

Data Source: (2005 - 2013) U.S Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey, 3-year estimates (B17003)

(2014 - current) U.S Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey, 1-year estimate (B17003)

Footnotes: (2005 - 2013) The six smallest counties are not included in the ACS – Cameron, Forest, Fulton, Montour, Potter, and Sullivan.  The percents used for those counties are small area (PUMA) figures.

(2014 - current) Single year estimates should not be compared to prior 3-year estimates. The 27 smallest counties are not included in the ACS - Bedford, Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Jefferson, Juniata, McKean, Mifflin, Montour, Perry, Pike, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Venango, Warren, Wayne and Wyoming.

Updated December 2021.