California has the highest number of working poor families in the nation, but the state does an ineffective job of providing educational opportunities to boost them out of poverty, according to a new report released Wednesday.
The report, Working Hard, Left Behind, found that the state has the largest number of adults without a high school diploma or equivalent and ranks last among states in the percentage of low-income working families in which neither parent has a college education.
And although the state’s older population is among the most well-educated in the nation, younger adults are losing ground, with those ages 25 to 34 ranking 25th among their peers in other states in obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The report was produced by the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity and the Women’s Foundation of California and is based on 2011 U.S. census data.
“What’s really disturbing to see is how many working poor families there are in California and that it’s more than we have imagined,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the college opportunity group. “The one commonality they have is very little education.”
According to the report, more than one-third of California’s working families are low-income, earning less than $45,397 for a family of four.
Of the 1.87 million low-income families in the state, 1.35 million — 73% — are in the labor force. But the lack of a diploma or college degree is preventing many heads of households from getting a higher-paying job.
The problem is especially acute for Latinos and blacks, with 14% of adult Latinos having obtained an associate’s degree or higher and 29% of black adults obtaining an associate's degree or higher. Among white and Asian adults, 47% and 54%, respectively, had obtained a higher degree.
Education, the report finds, can reap major benefits, with those graduating with a bachelor’s degree earning more than $1.3 million over their lifetime than those who obtain a high school diploma.
Meanwhile, the demand for a college-educated workforce is expected to outpace supply by more than 1 million bachelor's degrees by 2025.
“As this report makes stunningly clear… the future of the Californian economy — and millions of low-income working families — depends on increasing the pathways to and through higher education,” UC Berkeley public policy professor and former Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich said in a statement.
The report suggests a number of recommendations, including improving transition between high school, adult education and education systems, expanding financial aid option for older and part-time students and increasing child-care support.