Center for American Progress

The Middle Class Is Key to a Better-Educated Nation

The Middle Class Is Key to a Better-Educated Nation

A Stronger Middle Class Is Associated with Better Educational Outcomes

Examining test scores in all 50 states, David Madland and Nick Bunker find that a stronger American middle class is associated with higher levels of academic achievement.

Part of a Series

Read the full report (CAP Action)

See also: Middle-Class Societies Invest More in Public Education by David Madland and Nick Bunker

Education is key to America’s economic success as technological change and global competition increase exponentially. Unfortunately, where once our nation was atop the world academically, today American students rank in the middle of the pack. Fifteen countries now have higher college graduation rates than us, and our average test scores are lower than those of not just peer countries but also less- wealthy places such as Slovenia and Poland.

Not surprisingly, business leaders and the American public are concerned about the quality of American education. There are myriad proposals about how to improve the U.S. education system. Yet a critical but often overlooked reason for our poor educational achievement is the decline of the American middle class over the past four decades.

America today is less of a middle-class society as the wealthy capture most of the economy’s gains. The top 1 percent’s share of income reached 23.5 percent in 2007, the last year before the Great Recession, up from 9.12 percent in 1974. Over this same time period, the share of income going to the middle class, defined as the middle 60 percent of the population, fell to 46.9 percent from 52.2 percent, and the share of income going to the bottom 20 percent stayed at roughly 3 percent, declining by less than 1 percentage point.

Read the full report (CAP Action)

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David Madland

Senior Fellow; Senior Adviser, American Worker Project

Nick Bunker

Research Associate

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