Poverty & Education in the Show-Me State

Poverty & Education
Education Poverty

Poverty & Education in the Show-Me State

There’s an undeniable connection between poverty & education. We know that in most instances, the more education a person has the more money they make over their lifetime. As a result, their family’s standard of living is higher. They can afford to live in safer neighborhoods. They tend to own their homes rather than rent. Those who make more money have access to more nutritious foods rather than rely on a fast food diet. Educated people smoke less and exercise more. They have greater access to healthcare. All in all, education can positively impact the overall quality of one’s life. 


Bleak Economic Numbers


The 2020 Missouri Poverty Report is out, and the numbers don’t paint an encouraging picture. It turns out that we were only in the middle of the pack when compared to other states–and that was before COVID-19 hit. Governor Mike Parson has restricted hundreds of millions of dollars from this year’s state funding. Areas hardest hit so far include K-12 education, higher education, corrections, social services, and health and human services. More restrictions are likely to come July 1. 


Where are Missourians Struggling the Most? 


Outside the city of St. Louis, rural Missourians are struggling the most. Three Missouri counties have poverty rates above 25% — and all are located in Missouri’s bootheel. And, with only one exception, Missouri’s poorest counties are all located in the southern part of the state. 


How Educated Are Missourians? 


Statewide, 9.6% of Missouri adults don’t have at least a high school diploma, while 30.4% of them do. Another 30.6% have completed some college. However, only 18% of Missouri residents have earned a bachelor’s degree. Even fewer — 11.5% — have gone on to complete an advanced degree such as a master’s or a doctorate. 


Poverty & Educational Attainment


According to the Poverty Report, nearly 26% of those Missourians who don’t have at least a high school diploma are living in poverty. High school graduates or those who have passed the state-approved equivalency exam can cut that number in half to 13.1%. By the time a person completes their bachelor’s degree, their poverty rate goes all the way down to 3.8%. That can make a huge difference in the quality of their life as well as the life of their spouse and children. 


Let’s take a look at how many Missourians in our poorest counties fare when it comes to earning a bachelor’s degree: 

Poverty & Education


It’s easy to see that the poorest counties also have the lowest levels of educational attainment. The outlier of course is Adair County, which has a higher rate of residents who have earned a college degree when compared to its counterparts. One obvious difference is its location. It’s the only county not in southern Missouri but instead is positioned in the northeastern part of the state. Even more importantly, however, Adair County residents have easy access to some of the state’s top universities, including Truman State University and A.T. Still University of Health Sciences. There are far fewer educational opportunities available to residents of southern Missouri counties. 


But Can’t Poor Students Attend College Online? 


The short answer is no. Missouri has a broadband access problem in most areas. According to the Census Bureau, 87.3% of Missourians owned a computer between 2014-2018 and 77.6% subscribed to a broadband internet service. 


The problem is much worse in those areas that have the highest poverty levels: 

Poverty & Education


Poverty & Education in the Show-Me State: The Bottom Line


The bottom line is that all Missourians benefit from education. By ensuring all residents have access to affordable higher education opportunities, poverty rates will decline and our state can thrive. However, until lawmakers get serious about affordable higher education and broadband access, it’s likely the poorest residents of our state will continue to struggle. 




OneMissouri is committed to research, education, advocacy, and policy development on behalf of all Missourians. 


Top Graphic Credit: Blackboard


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