While some college is better than nothing, the biggest returns are associated with earning a degree. Right now, the most common higher education route for lower-income and older students is community college, but more than half of first time enrollees fail to graduate or transfer to a 4-year school within six years. Not only are these students failing to earn a degree, they’re often racking up debt in the process. Pushing on to get the degree is worth it: skilled low-income adolescents who go on to earn a bachelors degree have a 42% higher chance of making it into top two-fifths of the income distribution than those who don’t get a B.A.
In addition to education, a huge barrier to successful labor market entry is criminal conviction. A clean sheet in terms of crime and a college certificate make for a good start in working life: but, again, the gaps between rich and poor are stark.