Monday, September 26, 2011

STEM education and equity

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workers are essential to American innovation and competitiveness in an increasingly dynamic and global economy. Recently the Department of Commerce released their third and final report on STEM jobs and education. In the report, they examine demographic disparities in STEM education and find that educational attainment may affect equality of opportunity in these important, high‐quality jobs.

This report follows an analysis of labor market outcomes and gender disparities among STEM workers. The report found that regardless of race and Hispanic origin, higher college graduation rates are associated with higher shares of workers with STEM jobs. However, non‐Hispanic Whites and Asians are much more likely than other minority groups to have a bachelor’s degree. The Department of Commerce states that by increasing the numbers of STEM workers among currently underrepresented groups through education can help to ensure America’s future as a global leader in technology and innovation.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Non-Hispanic Whites comprise the largest group of STEM workers, accounting for about seven out of 10 STEM workers, which aligns closely with their share of the overall workforce.
  • Non-Hispanic Asians are most likely (42 percent) to graduate college with a STEM degree, while the propensities of other groups are all fairly similar (17-22 percent).
  • Half of all non-Hispanic Asian workers with STEM degrees have STEM jobs, compared to 30 percent of Hispanics and non-Hispanic Black and American Indian or Alaska Native workers.
  • One in five STEM workers is foreign born, of which 63 percent come from Asia.
  • STEM workers in all demographic groups, including the foreign born, earn more than their non-STEM counterparts. Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks receive a significantly larger STEM premium than do non-Hispanic Whites.

The President’s 2012 budget proposes $206 million in STEM training programs. This includes funding for the U.S. Department of Education to develop teacher training in grades K-12 around STEM-related topics, as well as funding for the National Science Foundation to conduct research on effective teacher training in STEM fields.

For state policymakers – considering strategies to increase high school and college completion are critical to increasing the number of people entering into the STEM workforce. For results-based policy strategies for increasing high school completion click here, and visit our homepage to sign-up for e-mail updates for results based policy strategies for increasing high school completion- coming soon!

Monday, September 19, 2011

High School Completion

The beginning of the school year offers new opportunities for students and communities across the country. For young people, completing high school is an important step in preparing for adulthood. However, according to America’s Promise, one in four public school children drop out before they finish high school; amounting to 1.3 million students a year – one every 26 seconds, 7,000 every school day. The rate of high school drop-out is a crisis impacting the young people, families and communities that make up this country; and the economic impact for the U.S. is significant (costing society billions of dollars and endangering the country’s ability to compete in the 21st century workforce). Grad Nation, an initiative of America’s Promise, has two goals related to improving rates of high school completion: achieving a 90 percent graduation rate nationwide by 2020, with no school graduating less than 80 percent of its students, and to regain America’s standing as first in the world in college completion. Through this initiative, America’s Promise released, Building a Grad Nation, a report that highlights successes in raising the graduation rates in rural, suburban and urban school districts across the country.

There are a number of resources available for policymakers considering ways to ensure students are supported and successful in school.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The 2010 Poverty Numbers

Earlier today the Census Bureau released the 2010 data on income, poverty and health insurance coverage. For most of the past ten years poverty has risen annually, and this year was not an exception with the rate rising to 15.1 percent (up 0.8 percentage points from 2009). Predictors of poverty, such as long-term unemployment, worsened from 2009 to 2010, so the poverty rate increase, while unfortunate, is not surprising. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, after recessions, increases in poverty typically persist longer than increases in unemployment. Furthermore, in each of the previous three recessions, the poverty rate did not begin to fall until a year after the annual unemployment rate began to decline.

While poverty in 2010 did not rise as steeply as it did in 2009, the rate of people living in deep poverty rose to a record high with 6.7 percent of all people living in deep poverty (deep poverty is defined as a family earning an annual income below half the poverty line). Fortunately government assistance programs have mitigated some of the affects of the economic crises on families in and near poverty. According to the Census Bureau, Unemployment Insurance and Social Security Income (both considered in the poverty estimates) kept poverty rates from growing even higher; UI lowered the number of people in poverty by 3.2 million people and SSI by 20.3 million people. The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are not calculated into the poverty rate but if they were they would have reduced the number of people living in poverty by 5.4 million and 3.9 million respectively.

The poverty numbers suggest that while the aftermath of the recession is impacting people across the country, it has been experienced in different ways and to differing degrees.

The 2010 poverty data showed that:

  • In 2010, 46.2 million people were in poverty, up from 43.6 million in 2009—the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty.
  • In 2010, 6.7 percent of all people, or 20.5 million, had income below one-half of their poverty threshold, up from 6.3 percent, or 19.0 million people, in 2009. This group repre­sented 44.3 percent of the poverty population in 2010.
  • The poverty rate and the number in poverty increased for both married-couple families (6.2 percent in 2010 from 5.8 percent in 2009) and families with a female householder (31.6 percent in 2010 from 29.9 percent in 2009).
  • Between 2009 and 2010, the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites (from 9.4 percent to 9.9 percent), for Blacks (from 25.8 percent to 27.4 percent), and for Hispanics (from 25.3 percent to 26.6 percent).
  • Between 2009 and 2010, the poverty rate increased for children under age 18 (from 20.7 percent to 22.0 percent).
  • Between 2009 and 2010, the poverty rate increased for adults aged 18 to 64 (from 12.9 percent to 13.7 percent).

Considering the Data in Context

In considering the data released by the Census Bureau it is important to also consider the context. A recent post by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights that the figures released today tell us how many people are poor but do not explain the experiences of those living in poverty. The CBPP post highlights other government data that suggest families living below, or only modestly above, the poverty line (which was about $22,300 for a family of four in 2010) are likely to face daily hardships and that living in poverty can have damaging consequences over the long term. They highlight, for example:

  • Nearly half (44 percent) of poor households with children were “food insecure” in 2010, according to the Agriculture Department, meaning that at times they had trouble affording sufficient food. For households with incomes above 185 percent of the poverty line, this rate was 9 percent.
  • About half (48 percent) of all poor households with children in 2005 reported one or more of four major hardships: they faced food insecurity with hunger, lived in overcrowded conditions, were behind on rent or mortgage payments, and/or were unable to go to the doctor or hospital when they needed to.
  • Poor children were more than 70 percent more likely to lack health coverage than non-poor children in 2009. Over 15 percent of poor children were uninsured, compared to under 9 percent of non-poor children.
  • Research shows that poverty among young children not only slows them down in school but also may significantly shrink their earnings as adults.

While budgets are tight and falling short, and while unemployment rates and poverty remain high, it is important for policymakers to continue to work on supporting the families in greatest need - all while considering the feasibility within the current economic climate. Understanding how communities are being most affected and why will help policymakers create safety-net programs that will meet family and community needs. Creating policy with a focus on results will help to do this in a way that also efficiently allocates scarce resources and improves the odds that problems will be addressed effectively.

To read CSSP's Statement on the New Poverty Data and Implications for Children and Families please click here.

For more strategies to Ensure Children Grow Up in Safe, Supportive and Economically Successful Families visit

More from our blog: a primer on poverty measurement and the Census instruments used.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tracking the Warning Signs: High School Dropouts

Every year, nearly one quarter of high school students (approximately 1 million students) in the United States fail to graduate on time; and close to 5 million young adults ages 18 to 24 currently lack a high school diploma. Recent progress on increasing graduation rates has stalled, and while the drop-out rate has not changed significantly, a recent report by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) notes that what makes current graduation rates alarming is the reality of the new U.S. economy. The report states that it is practically impossible for individuals lacking a high school diploma to earn a living or participate meaningfully in civic life. If the current trends continue, nearly 13 million students will drop-out of high school over the next decade, costing the U.S. $3 trillion.

These trends have led to an increased focus on improving high school graduation rates by both educators and policymakers. Several states have started tracking, reviewing, and establishing trends that amount to warning signs that a young person is on the path to dropping-out of school. The ECS report highlights these efforts and summarizes the statewide early warning indicator systems in Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama and the Philadelphia Public Schools district-wide system.

For results-based policy strategies to increase high school completion, visit

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Supporting Working Families: Supplemental Income

The most recent poverty numbers (2009) indicate that the official poverty rate was 14.3 percent, or 1 in 7 Americans, and that there were 8.8 million families living in poverty. Even with work supports such as child care and transportation assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food Stamps) many working American families still struggle to meet their basic needs. In response to this need, states have implemented programs or enacted policies that provide an additional supplement to individuals’ earnings. These provide cash assistance to working individuals, usually on a monthly basis, to supplement their earnings and raise their income. Typically, these programs are targeted at low-income parents who are unemployed and the supports are provided when they begin working; earnings supplements are designed to encourage employment and increase the payoff of low-wage work. These supports can also provide an important incentive for a parent to stay employed. A brief, Providing Earning Supplements to Encourage and Maintain Employment, by MDRC presents their findings, and lessons for policy and practice, from studies of five programs that provided earnings supplements and that have been rigorously evaluated: The Canadian Self-Sufficiency Project (SSP), the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), Milwaukee’s New Hope Project, the Texas Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) program, and the United Kingdom Employment Retention and Advancement (UK ERA) program.

Through these evaluations, MDRC developed lessons learned including:

  • Earnings supplements substantially increased employment and income and, in many cases, employment retention.
  • For the most part, the earnings supplement programs had limited effects on employment advancement.
  • The increased income that individuals typically obtained through the earnings supplement programs improved the well-being of families and their children.
  • Earnings supplements, when combined with employment services, have larger effects than earnings supplements alone.

As well as specific lessons for policy and practice, including:

  • Consider strategies to lengthen the period that individuals receive supplements, and provide additional supports after the supplements end.
  • Market earnings supplements aggressively.
  • Establish relatively straightforward service and eligibility rules and nonwork requirements to maximize take-up rates.

To read the remainder of MDRC’s lessons learned and for additional information on earning supplements or the programs evaluated review Providing Earning Supplements to Encourage and Maintain Employment.

For additional strategies to ensure that Children Grow Up in Safe, Supportive and Economically Successful Families visit