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Growing wealth gap may threaten education’s role in social mobility

The idea that a college degree is a ticket to a middle-class lifestyle or that a good education can break generations-long cycles of poverty in a family is a lynchpin in stories of achieving the American Dream. But data show education is just one more arena in American life where gap between the rich and poor is widening.

The Associated Press reports today that education spending by the country’s wealthiest families increased their education spending by 35 percent during the economic downturn to $5,210 per child. During the same period, education spending per child stagnated at $1,000 in the other 90 percent of American households.

The extra dollars are going toward expenses like SAT and other tutors, private school tuition, childcare and preschool.

A growing gap between higher and lower-income students on measures like reading proficiency and college completion is already well documented, according to a New York Times report from 2012.

Data showing those trends in 2012 were only available through 2007 and 2008, before the economic downturn took hold.

A report out last year from the Hamilton Project also found a growing gap in the education spending of high- and low-income families.

“The most concerning thing is that there are initial signs that inequality is starting to bleed into social mobility. And social mobility is at the heart of the American experience,” Michael Greenstone, the co-author of the report and an economics professor at MIT told the Boston Globe.

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