Education: Just the Facts

Collective Spending

* In 2017, federal, state, and local governments in the U.S. spent $952 billion on education. This amounts to $7,545 for every household in the U.S., 4.9% of the U.S. gross domestic product, and 15% of government current expenditures. These figures do not include:

  • land purchases for schools and other facilities.
  • some of the costs of durable items like buildings and computers.
  • the unfunded liabilities of post-employment non-pension benefits (like health insurance) for government employees.

* Government education spending in 2017 was comprised of:

  • $660 billion on elementary and secondary education.
  • $197 billion on higher education.
  • $95 billion on libraries and other education.

* Relative to other types of government spending in 2017, education spending was:

  • 38% lower than spending for healthcare.
  • 23% higher than spending for national defense and veterans’ benefits.
  • 2.5 times higher than spending for public order and safety, including law enforcement, courts, prisons, fire protection, and immigration enforcement.

* During 2017, private consumers and nonprofit organizations in the U.S. spent about $352 billion on formal education. This amounts to 1.8% of the U.S. gross domestic product and $2,787 for every household in the U.S.

* Relative to other spending by private consumers and nonprofit organizations in 2017, education spending was:

  • 44% lower than spending on motor vehicles and parts.
  • 26% lower than spending on clothing and footwear.
  • 15% higher than spending on alcoholic beverages.

Collective Outcomes


* In 2017, U.S. residents aged 25 to 64 had average cash earnings of $46,015.Cash earnings do not include non-cash compensation, such as employee fringe benefits.

* In 2017, 79% of U.S. residents aged 25 to 64 had at least some cash earnings, and 21% did not have any cash earnings.

* Among U.S. residents aged 25 to 64 who had cash earnings in 2017, average cash earnings were $58,565. Among these same people, median cash earnings were $42,346.

Click here for more data on education and earnings.

Practical Literacy

* Per the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

As a part of their everyday lives, adults in the United States interact with a variety of printed and other written materials to perform a multitude of tasks. A comprehensive list of such tasks would be virtually endless. It would include such activities as balancing a checkbook, following directions on a prescription medicine bottle, filling out a job application, consulting a bus schedule, correctly interpreting a chart in the newspaper, and using written instructions to operate a voting machine.

A common thread across all literacy tasks is that each has a purpose—whether that purpose is to pay the telephone bill or to understand a piece of poetry. All U.S. adults must successfully perform literacy tasks in order to adequately function—that is, to meet personal and employment goals as well as contribute to the community.

* In 2003, NCES assessed the English literacy skills of U.S. residents aged 16 and older. The full assessment was nationally representative except for 5% of the population who were completely illiterate in English and Spanish or unable to answer very simple questions.

For more information, visit