Repairing California’s Ladder to Opportunity: Making Sure That Hard-Working Families Can Prosper

May 22nd, 2013
Hope Richardson, Policy Analyst, California Budget Project

May 22, 2013 | Written by: Hope Richardson, Policy Analyst, California Budget Project

Repairing California’s Ladder to Opportunity: Making Sure That Hard-Working Families Can Prosper

Nearly 60 percent of low-income working families in California have no education beyond high school, the largest share of any state. A new report from the Campaign for College Opportunity and the Women’s Foundation of California, Working Hard, Left Behind, draws attention to the state’s more than 1.3 million low-income working families, highlights the critical link between higher education and economic mobility, and calls for changes to improve the educational pathway to opportunity.

A large proportion of California’s working families — more than a third — are low income, defined as making below 200 percent of the poverty line, or $45,397 for a family of four in 2011. Improving the educational attainment of these working families has the potential to boost their earnings and improve their employment prospects. A college degree is strongly tied to economic security and mobility: On the whole, only Californians with bachelor’s degrees made strong wage gains over the past generation, and, since the recession, job growth nationwide has largely benefited those with education beyond a high school diploma.


Improving access to higher education is a key step that California can and must take to improve economic opportunity for low-income working families. Recent research suggests that every dollar California invests in higher education pays off with a return of $4.50, so this step is also likely to strengthen the state’s economy.

Working Hard, Left Behind outlines actions policymakers can take to improve the state’s pathways to higher education and vocational training and certification. These include:

Of course, the pathway to higher education and workforce success arguably begins as early as preschool. Making sure kids in California’s K-12 public schools have the resources they need to get on track toward higher education must also be a priority for policymakers. A CBP report out tomorrow will look at the current debate surrounding a major policy proposal intended to strengthen educational equity.Moving Forward: Addressing Inequities in School Finance Through the Governor’s Local Control Funding Formula examines Governor Jerry Brown’s bid to direct additional funding to school districts with a larger proportion of disadvantaged students. Stay tuned.

About the Author:

Hope Richardson is a Policy Analyst at the California Budget Project, a non-profit organization that evaluates public policies and their impact on low- and middle-income Californians.