Education Helps Young Adults Lift Themselves out of Poverty

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Danielle Duval, 23, lives in a shelter and depends on food stamps and supplemental security income to get by. But she said she is trying to put her life together through education. Her first goal: to pass the General Educational Development (GED) test.

She’s getting help—at the Henry Street Settlement, a social service agency on the Lower East Side. Like Duval, many young adults at the age of 18 to 25 try to lift themselves out of poverty through education—and many non-profit groups try to help make that journey easier.

(Graph from the study "Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education")

(Graph from the study “Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education”)

At Henry Street Settlement, a program called Project Rise provides free GED class, a career development workshop and internship placement for young adults without a high school diploma. The federal government funded the program through the national Social Innovation, in the aim of reducing poverty and improving communities. About 60 percent of the students in the program are on some kind of public assistance, according to program coordinator Erica Pollock.

“We are trying to bolster them so that they can become productive members of society without having to rely on government subsidy,” said Takiyah Weekes, the employment services director of youth services at Henry Street Settlement.

According to a study on the role of education in improving social mobility conducted by the Brookings Institution this year,  almost 45 percent of those without a college degree end up in the lowest quintile of income distribution, whereas only about 16 percent of those with a college degree end up living in poverty.   “A college degree can be a ticket out of poverty,” concludes the study.

Duval is determined to get that ticket.

“Once I pass the GED [test], I’ll apply for community college to study business and writing,” Duval said. She retook the GED test last Friday, and is anxiously waiting for her scores. Last time her score was only 40 point less than the passing score of 2250.

Her teacher Josh Nagel said she is very dedicated to passing the GED test. Lillian Amoah, a friend and classmate of Duval, also said she deserves a pass this time.

“If I pass, I’ll be screaming and yelling, ‘I got my diploma!’ and buying you guys cupcakes,” she said, sitting in a swivel chair and spinning it fast, imagining her triumph during a break with her friend, Amoah, and the program’s coordinator Pollock.

Duval said she wants to be able to start her own business after college, probably a clothing store or a coffee shop. But for now, she is applying for part-time jobs at Dunkin’ Donuts and Target, in order to save money for an apartment.

Danielle Duval works on her laptop in Project Rise office. She is editing a novel she wrote several months ago. She said writing is her hobby, and that's why she wants to study writing in college.

Danielle Duval works on her laptop in Project Rise office. She is editing a novel she wrote several months ago. She said writing is her hobby, and that’s why she wants to study writing in college. (Photo: Yan Cong/NY City Lens)

She is currently living in a homeless shelter with her 10-month-old daughter and her mother. They moved into the shelter right after the child was born. With Duval taking GED classes and her mother babysitting the child, the family’s only income is around $300 to $400, which is the Supplemental Security Income Duval’s mother receives due to her disability, according to Duval.

Although they can live in the shelter as long as they want to, Duval said she hopes to find a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan or Bronx for $1,200 a month by the end of this year.

About one out of five students in Project Rise has stayed or is staying in a shelter. They are facing with the same housing problem as Duval. Affordable places in New York seem hard to find.

“We’ve been thinking about moving out of New York, and go to another state,” Duval said. “It’s too expensive here.”

Duval said she didn’t care where she lives, as long as she could settle down, go to college, and provide her family.

“I want to give my daughter the best I can,” she said. “I’m doing all these for her, and for myself.”

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