51% of public school students are low-income

Percent-of-Low-Income-Students-in-PS-2015-01More than half of students attending public schools in 2013 were low-income, the first time they were in the majority since these figures were tracked.

That is, they are not necessarily poor (according to the federal definition), but they are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Students can get free lunches if their parents’ incomes are 135 percent of the federal poverty threshold or less, and reduced price lunches if their parents’ incomes are 185 percent or less.

A child of a single parent could get a free lunch if the parent’s income was $19,669 or less.  The child could get a reduced-price lunch if the single parent’s income was $27,991 or less.   The reduced-price limit is $43,568 for a family of four.

Low-income students were fewer than 32 percent of students in U.S. public schools in 1989 and only 38 percent in 2000, the Southern Education Foundation reported.   Reed Jordan of the Urban Institute said the 51 percent figure reflects rising child poverty, increasing economic instability and possibly increasing number of poor immigrants.   About one in four American public school students are the children of immigrants.

Changes in eligibility rules also could affect the number.  Schools in which a majority of students are low-income now offer reduced-price lunches to all.

One oddity is that the figures in the chart below show a higher percentage of low-income children in the public schools than in the nation as a whole.  This could be because significant numbers of middle-income and high-income children are enrolled in private, parochial and charter schools.


Being poor or low-income is not a good thing, but concentrating poor and low-income students makes things worse.  If you grow up in a poor or low-income family and everybody you come in contact with is the same, it is easy to think that this is all you can aspire to.  But when the majority or a near-majority of students are low-income, concentrations of low-income students are hard to avoid.


A New Majority: Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation’s Public Schools by the Southern Education Foundation.

A closer look at income and race concentration in public schools by Reed Jordan for the Urban Institute.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Percentage of Poor Students in Public Schools Rises by Motoko Rich for The New York Times.

No, a Majority of US Public School Students Are Not in Poverty by Alex Tabarrok for Marginal Revolution.  Low income is not the same thing as poverty.

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