Friday Rant: Can “The Dream” Sustain Without Investment, Or is it Already Too Late?

The public education crisis in the U.S. is old news and steadily grows worse. In my home town this week, The Philadelphia Board of Education -- an oxymoron if there ever was one -- announced a new round of spending cuts for a system that long ago ceased to provide organized after school extracurricular essentials like music and sports in a "system" that can barely manage to graduate half of its high school pupils. On a broader national level, the problem is also accelerating.

This week's New York Times reports from "... the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University [study that] only 16 percent of the [high school] classes of 2009-11 had full-time jobs. An additional 22 percent were working part time, and most of them wanted full-time work." And like unemployed adults who have stopped looking for work, this population is also becoming harder to track. To wit, "The data comes from a national survey of high school graduates who are not enrolled in college full time, a notoriously transient population that social scientists and other experts had been having trouble tracking. (In the two months since the survey was conducted, a large share of participants have had their phone numbers disconnected and could not be reached.)"

Also contained in The Times article, "More than half -- 56 percent -- of high school graduates without college diplomas said that their generation would have less financial success than their parents. By contrast, just 14 percent said they expected to do better than their parents. (Another study from the Heldrich Center found that recent college graduates were similarly pessimistic about whether their generation would surpass that of their parents.)" And since many of their parents -- as evidenced by the median U.S. household income stubbornly holding at under $50K -- aren't even close to meeting their total current needs with current income, this is a very troublesome outlook.

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), who was born into slavery, certainly beat the odds of surviving an abysmal start in life let alone becoming a world-renowned editor, orator, author, and statesman. He is famous for stating, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." I'm certain that Mr. Douglass wouldn't have a problem substituting "adults" for "men" if he was still with us. Yet while his thinking remains fresh, it surely seems as though very few are listening.

The sheer and utter neglect with which this country ignores its public education system along with sufficient investment -- both public and private -- in our young citizen's careers and futures is criminal. And what's worse and even more inconceivable is the reality that only a handful of citizens seem to have a clue about the rapidly unfolding economic externality consequences of continuing to ignore this continually steaming train wreck.

We can fix this if we can get our heads out of the sand. Make time and sacrifice some money to hire, train and mentor a young high school grad. Teaching by example may well be our only hope of defending the values and accomplishments that the U.S. has been famous for. Whether you take them under your belt on the shop floor or pushing POs as an intern in purchasing, we owe it to the future of this country to take matters into our own hands.

- William Busch

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