Voices of Digital Communities

Good News on Income Inequality from Austin, Texas, USA

Income inequality – with all of its educational, cultural, ethnic and social impacts – is the new American problem, and to a lesser extent, is a problem in all developed economies.

by / February 15, 2012

It would be a classic “good news, bad news” joke if it weren’t so serious.  A new study of American educational achievement from the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University shows that…

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race.”

That is how Sean F. Reardon, the study’s author, described a gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income American students, which has grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.  The good news is that the color of our skins is no longer an automatic indicator of our educational achievement (see Obama, Barack).  The bad news is that the contents of our wallets increasingly are.  

Income inequality – with all of its educational, cultural, ethnic and social impacts – is the new American problem, and to a lesser extent, is a problem in all developed economies.  It is the direct product of globalization in the broadband economy, made worse by policies popular with an anxious electorate filled with nostalgia for a golden age that never was.  

Which makes Austin, Texas all the more remarkable.  Austin is the first of our 2012 Top Seven Intelligent Communities to be profiled on our Web site.  (You will need to log in or complete the free subscription form to read it.)

In Austin, they have recognized that their "home-grown" population largely does not participate in the community's red-hot technology economy – and that this is a threat to long-term prosperity and social health.  The public and private sectors together have developed multiple programs with ambitious goals to increase the number of native Austinites who graduate from secondary school, enroll in a 2-year or 4-year college and graduate successfully from that.  And they are getting results.  For the secondary school class of 2009, the graduation rate of low-income students jumped 14% to 75% overall.    

For any community struggling with similar issues, Austin has lessons to teach.  And the start of those lessons is just a click away

Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.