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Adult Learner > Factors > Socioeconomic Status

Socioeconomic Status

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How Socioeconomic Status connects to...

Socioeconomic Status (SES) refers to an individual or family's social standing as compared to other families. It is usually measured by a combination of factors, including a family's education, occupation, and income, as well as access to social and cultural resources. Socioeconomic Status and educational attainment are tightly interconnected, and adult learners are often seeking to improve their Socioeconomic Status through continuing education and training opportunities.

Main Ideas

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 30% of adults living at or below the federal poverty line have not completed their high school credential. Many adults who are experiencing poverty struggle with basic reading, math, and digital skills, and having a high school credential does not guarantee that basic skills are in place.

In addition to inequitable access to high quality education and training opportunities, people who experience poverty or earn less than a family-sustaining wage may also be impacted by: housing insecurity, food insecurity, and job insecurity.

  • Housing insecurity and mobility often affects low-income families such as those who have high housing costs relative to their income. This disparity can result in difficulty paying monthly rent and utilities, which can lead to housing instability, eviction, and in some cases, homelessness.
  • Food insecurity refers to lack of access to sufficient amounts of nutritious food. People experiencing food insecurity may also live in food deserts, areas where there is limited access to grocery stores or farmer's markets that supply healthy and affordable food.
  • Job insecurity and unemployment also negatively impact adults living below family-sustaining wages, and can be major sources of psychological stress. It is important to note that unemployment disproportionately affects Black men, who are historically more likely to experience mass incarceration and have limited opportunities to advance in education, build their skills, and access well-paying jobs.

Additional factors such as the cost of continuing education, childcare, and transportation may also prevent individuals with lower SES from participating in adult and continuing education opportunities. The cost of digital devices and reliable broadband internet access may also widen what is often referred to as the digital divide. For many individuals, the childhood trauma associated with economic hardship and lack of access to financial, social, and educational resources at home and in the community can have long-term effects on academic achievement, health, and well-being into adulthood.

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