What Do Americans Believe Will Help Them Get Ahead?

Ronald Brownstein:

But for Hathcoat, returning to school on a more regular basis to finish her degree involves difficult trade-offs of time and money. Besides working, she’s also raising a daughter. Covering the cost of childcare would greatly multiply the expense of returning to college. “It’s really, really a high cost,” she says. “Having an eight-hour job, I would have to put my daughter in daycare, and that’s something I’m not wanting to do.” Though she believes completing a degree would improve her long-run prospects, “personal and … financial” considerations have convinced her she needs to wait.

A new Atlantic Media/Pearson Opportunity Poll suggests that many Americans recognize Hathcoat’s dilemma. Americans appear to have internalized the conclusion that in the information age, they will earn more if they learn more. Across racial lines, a significant majority of American adults said in the poll that they believe they could obtain a better and higher-paying job if they acquired more education or training.

But respondents also identified a thicket of obstacles centered on money and time that prevents them from obtaining more credentials. “There’s lots of different certifications, or courses or classes I’d like to take,” says Ryan McGraw, a software consultant in Nashville who responded to the poll. “And it’s just difficult to create the time and money to do so.”