Poverty Impact and Indicators

Poverty Impact and Indicators

Poverty Rates by Level of Education

The link between poverty and education can be seen at all education levels. Approximately 13 percent of Iowa’s total population lives in poverty, but there are significant differences when broken down by level of education. Close to one quarter (23 percent) of Iowans age 25 and over with less than a high school education live in poverty. In contrast, a significantly smaller portion of Iowa’s adult population with a bachelor’s degree or higher lives in poverty (4 percent).10

Childhood Poverty

Growing up in poverty has been shown to limit academic opportunities. The achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families has widened substantially since 1975. Research has found that the income achievement gap is now nearly twice as large as the black-white achievement gap and is nearly as strong as parental education in predicting children’s achievement.11 Even more concerning is the prevalence of childhood poverty in the U.S. A report by UNICEF ranks the U.S. 34th out of 35 economically advanced countries for the percent of children who are living in poverty, above Romania and below virtually all of Europe.12

In Iowa, 16 percent of children under 18 years of age are living in poverty, which is greater than the statewide poverty rate of 13 percent and equal to that of the U.S. population at 16 percent.10 However, the poverty rate nearly doubles for school-aged children in Iowa who are black or Hispanic at 43 percent and 30 percent respectively.13,14 Iowa has the third lowest overall poverty and childhood poverty rates in the Midwest region. Only Minnesota and North Dakota had poverty numbers lower than Iowa’s.10

Single-Parent Households

Family structure impacts the likelihood of a family living in poverty. Historically, families headed by a single female were three times as likely to live in poverty as families with a single male householder and over five times more likely than married couple families.15 In Iowa, nearly one out of every seven families16 is headed by a female householder. Poverty is even more prevalent when the female householder is a minority. The poverty rate for all Iowa families with a female householder is 30 percent. The poverty rate jumps to 43 percent when the female householder is Hispanic and 52 percent when the female householder is black.17

Food Security

Nationally, 19 percent of all households with children and 35 percent of households headed by a female with no spouse were food insecure in 2014, meaning “food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.”18 Food insecurity is a predictor of poor academic performance. Children at risk for hunger have a more difficult time getting along with others, are more likely to have to repeat a grade and have lower test scores than food-secure children.19 Food-insufficient teenagers are more likely to repeat a grade, score lower on academic achievement tests and face suspensions than food-sufficient teenagers.20

Iowa has seen considerable growth in the eligibility and utilization of food assistance programs. The percent of households receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits increased from 7 percent in 2005 to 12 percent in 2014.21 The number of school-aged children receiving free or reduced price lunch has seen even greater increases, up 10 percentage points from 10 years ago, to 41 percent in 2014–15. School districts with the largest (greater than 7,500) and smallest (less than 300) enrollments had even higher proportions of their student bodies on free or reduced price lunch, 50 percent and 47 percent respectively.7

Impact on Iowa’s Higher Education Goal

The widening achievement gap between high- and low-income students poses potential barriers to increasing educational attainment in Iowa, particularly among minority populations. Children who are poor are less likely to achieve important educational milestones, such as graduating from high school and enrolling and completing college, than children who were never poor.Increasing the proportion of students who enroll in and complete a postsecondary educational program is key to reducing childhood poverty. A parent’s level of education is one of the most important factors related to childhood poverty persistence. Poor children, particularly minority children, born to parents with only high school diplomas are significantly more likely to be persistently poor.22

10)    U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. (2014). Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months.
11)    Reardon, S.F. (2011). The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations.
12)    Adamson, P. (2012). Measuring child poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries. Innocenti Research Center Report Card 10.
13)    U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 5-Year  Estimates. (2014). Poverty status in the past 12 months by sex and age (black or African American).
14)    U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. (2014). Poverty status in the past 12 months by sex and age (Hispanic of Latino).
15)    Mykyta, L., and Trudi J. Renwick. Changes in Poverty Measurement: An Examination of the Research SPM and Its Effects by Gender. (2013). U.S. Census Bureau.
16)    U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. (2014). Households and families.
17)    U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. (2014). Poverty status in the past 12 months of families.
18)    Coleman-Jenson, A., Rabbitt, M.P., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (September 2015). Household food security in the United States in 2014.
19)    Hickson, M., Ettinger de Cuba, S., Weiss, I., Donofrio, G., & Cook, J. (September 2013). Too hungry to learn: Food insecurity and school readiness.
20)    Hickson, M., Ettinger de Cuba, S., Weiss, I., Donofrio, G., & Cook, J. (September 2013). Feeding our human capital: Food insecurity and tomorrow’s workforce.
21)    U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey. (2005-2014). American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table S1101 Food Stamps/SNAP.
22)    Ratcliffe, C. (September 2015). Child poverty and adult success.  Low-Income Working Families Initiative.


Printed from the Iowa College Student Aid Commission website on May 24, 2018 at 3:19am.