If we truly want better education for all, then we must be concerned about the high levels of poverty and income inequality in our society. Social scientists have long known that family income and education are highly correlated with academic performance and educational attainment. If we reduce poverty, we increase students’ chances of having good health, a secure home, and the conditions that support learning.

In this context, Robert Reich’s recent article about poverty in America is relevant. Although he says that only Romania has more child poverty than the U.S. among developed nations, Romania was stuck in a repressive dictatorship for decades until 1989, and should not be in the same comparison group with the world’s most powerful economy. We are truly–in this humiliating statistic–#1.

This is the issue that “reformers” don’t want to talk about. They say that if you talk about what matters most, you are making excuses. Hardly. Something has gone terribly wrong in the past three decades or so, says Reich.

He writes:

“Although it’s still possible to win the lottery (your chance of winning $636 million in the recent Mega Millions sweepstakes was one in 259 million), the biggest lottery of all is what family we’re born into. Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.

“That’s not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches – with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone – was once at the core of the American Dream.

“And equal opportunity was the heart of the American creed. Although imperfectly achieved, that ideal eventually propelled us to overcome legalized segregation by race, and to guarantee civil rights. It fueled efforts to improve all our schools and widen access to higher education. It pushed the nation to help the unemployed, raise the minimum wage, and provide pathways to good jobs. Much of this was financed by taxes on the most fortunate.

“But for more than three decades we’ve been going backwards. It’s far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.

“The major reason is widening inequality. The longer the ladder, the harder the climb. America is now more unequal that it’s been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream.

“Rather than respond with policies to reverse the trend and get us back on the road to equal opportunity and widely-shared prosperity, we’ve spent much of the last three decades doing the opposite.”

He asks:

“How can the economy be back on track when 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent?

“The underlying issue is a moral one: What do we owe one another as members of the same society?”

These are important questions to think about on Christmas Day, as some enjoy the bounty of our beautiful land, while far too many go hungry.