More than 3.6 million college graduates are living in poverty—and the rate keeps climbing

Their future: not as bright a path as you might think.
Their future: not as bright a path as you might think.
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
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America’s war on poverty “is largely over and a success,” declared Donald Trump’s administration last July (paywall). And indeed, the US Census Bureau just reported that 12.3% of US households lived in poverty in 2017, down from 12.7% in 2016.

But as fortunes improve more broadly, one class of Americans keeps getting poorer: those with at least a college degree. In 2017, some 4.8% of those with degrees lived in poverty, up from 4.5% in 2016. That means that more than 360,000 college-educated people joined the ranks of the impoverished in 2017.

Of course, even a 4.8% poverty rate sounds pretty swell compared with the 24.5% rate for adults without high school diplomas. What’s weird, though, is the trend.

Even weirder is that this divergence in improving fortunes has been widening. Among people without college degrees, poverty levels have steadily declined over the past five years. In 2017, some 3 million fewer of them were poor than in 2013.

Not so for college grads. Back in 2013, only 4.4% were poor—amounting to just under 3 million people. Since then, an additional 680,000 of them have slipped under the poverty line.

This is all the more disquieting given the steady drop in the unemployment rate over the past half-decade.

It’s not clear why this is happening or what it tells us about the state of America’s economy—or, perhaps, its education system. It doesn’t undermine the fact that a college degree is plainly the surest path to a good income (paywall). Whatever the its cause, though, this once well-mapped road to economic security is increasingly leading millions of Americans horribly astray.