“Opening the doors of higher education shouldn’t be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is an American issue”, said President Obama, as he vowed to make college affordable to all Americans, by investing $60 billion, over 10 years, to make community college education available to all students, free of charge. I am reblogging my article below, to emphasize how it could benefit us all.
America has a problem and most of us don’t feel alarmed by it. If there is a crime in my neighborhood, then I get interested in doing something about it; if the rents go up in my area, I feel inclined to take action; if there are many foreclosures, then I feel worried that it will affect the value of my home as well. But if some child, somewhere, drops out of school, it does not seem like it is my problem. However, high school drop out rate inAmericais a problem of epic proportion and it impacts everything and everyone, in the long run. Over one million students who enter high school each year, fail to graduate with their peers, at the end of four years. Why should you and I be concerned? Well, there are many reasons. Apparently, increase in high school and college graduation by just 5% can lead to combined savings and revenue of almost $8 billion, just by reduction in crime related costs. High school dropouts earn about $260,000 less than high school graduates, contribute less to the US economy and cost the nation more than $17 M in Medicaid and uninsured healthcare costs.
So the obvious question is why is there such a high dropout rate in America?
About 1.2 million students who fail to graduate from high schools, are disproportionately from minority groups and are disproportionately poor. For the first time, class is trumping race in many cases. Often lack of engagement and lowered motivation are cited as primary reasons. Now, really, let us dig deeper. Why would these kids standing on the doorstep of young adulthood, not be motivated? This should be a time in life when they should be bursting with enthusiasm and eagerness to embrace life and avail of all the opportunities that life has to offer. Their lack of engagement steams from systemic problems and I felt inclined to write this article because this problem is only going to get worse, as income disparity is widening.
Most of the data below is taken from the Atlantic magazine, September, 2011 issue. According a recent poll, the richest 1 percent households in America earn as much as the bottom 60% put together and the rich 1% possess as much wealth as the bottom 90%. The top strata is also the consuming class, moving the economy, based on their interests and needs. According to Gallup, while the daily consumer spending was completely flat for majority of Americans, between May 2009 to May 2010, among those Americans earning more than $90,000 a year, the spending rose by 16%. In 2009, the country’s top 25 hedge fund managers earned $25 billion, which is more than they had made in 2007, before the crash. While the middle class was hit hard by the economic downturn and many baby boomers will never recover to pre-crash levels, the story is different for the top 1%. The upper 1% was also hit hard, mostly due to stock market crash, but they often had cash reserves to buy assets cheaply, when the markets crashed. The upper class is emerging stronger and wealthier from the downturn.
This rising and alarming income gap has huge cultural implications. Although cultural norms cannot be ascribed exclusively to the economy, there is a widening cultural chasm developing between the top “very wealthy” and the middle class. Middle class is showing blinking red signals of family dysfunction that include, divorces, increasing college and high school dropout rates, increasing financial stress, single parenting, and troubled children. According to Bradford Wilcox, Director of National Marriage Project at University of Virginia, about a third of class related changes in marriage patterns, are directly attributable to wage stagnation, increased job insecurity, unemployment etc. All this directly impacts children. Additionally, thinning out of the middle class means fewer stepping stones to those born into low income families and certainly nothing to motivate them to focus on academic achievements to climb the ladder of success.
There should be a multi pronged approach to tackle this major problem facing America today, if America is to compete in the 21st century. Many solutions that have been often suggested include, push for better schooling, diverting more resources into education, stop astronomical fee hikes for college going kids, creation of many clearer paths for kids who do not immediately go to college, and along with focus on enabling good teachers, let us focus also on encouraging and supporting parents to stay involved in their children’s education. But more importantly, the nation must focus on narrowing the wide income gap and enabling a thriving middle class. This disturbing income inequality, over time, will cause a cultural separation that is unfair and unhealthy to our children and will be corrosive over time. The super rich today are increasingly segregated by the locations they live in, the jobs they do, where they shop, and what they buy. They will likely pass on their wealth to the next generation. If majority of the wealthy will have inherited wealth, rather than wealth created from hard work or innovation, where will be the incentive for others, to work hard, to stay in school, to remain motivated, to dream big, and to achieve those dreams? Who will motivate, inspire, and mentor them? Will developing countries send their low level jobs to America in the years to come? Let us wake up and address this problem now, with our voices and our votes.