Much political rhetoric these days is devoted to the importance of broadening access to college—and there is plenty of evidence that it’s still better financially to have a degree than not—but in the postcrash world of 2014, a good education may not keep you from hovering near the poverty line. The number of people with graduate degrees receiving food assistance or other forms of federal aid nearly tripled between 2007 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census. More specifically, 28 percent of food-stamp households were headed by a person with at least some college education in 2013, compared with 8 percent in 1980, according to an analysis by University of Kentucky economists.
The hypereducated poor, as I’ve come to think of them, are as hidden to the country at large as Bolin is at Columbia. “Nobody knows or cares that I have a PhD, living in the trailer park,” says a former linguistics adjunct and mother of one child, who lives in Eugene, Oregon, and was on welfare and food stamps. A St. Paul, Minnesota, librarian, who admits that few of her friends have any clue how broke she is, puts it this way: “Every American thinks they’re a temporarily embarrassed millionaire: I am no exception.”
ALISSA QUART,HYPEREDUCATED AND ON WELFARE