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Jobs and education: An ideal world where no one makes less than $20,000

July 18, 2011 | 12:16 pm


A new study came out Monday that says pretty much the same old thing: More education equals better pay. In this case, the study found that high school dropouts earn an average of about $19,000 a year, compared with more than $28,500 for high school graduates. That's a more than $9,000 difference. (Although the press release from the Alliance for Excellent Education, which sponsored the study, says it's an $8,000 difference; should we worry about that writer's basic math skills?) People with associate's degrees earn about $39,000, and those with bachelor's degrees $53,000, though they might want to check that with the number of new college graduates who can't find more than a part-time gig at the Gap.

"Diplomas mean dollars," said said Bob Wise, president of the alliance and a former governor of West Virginia. “Graduating more students from high school prepared for college is good for the individual in terms of higher earnings, but it also benefits the nation in terms of increased tax revenue, additional spending on homes and automobiles, job creation and a more robust economic growth.”

But is all that true? The argument that high school degrees for all will mean higher salaries for all, and thus a more robust economy, begs for examination. Should we ever reach that happy day when the dropout rate nears zero, there will still be minimum-wage jobs. Someone is going to take those jobs; right now, those tend to be people without a high school diploma. But will big-box stores suddenly start paying their cashiers more if their applicants have such diplomas? Unlikely.

There are ways in which a more educated workforce could contribute to a healthier economy, but that's mostly at the other end of the education scale -- people with advanced degrees in high-demand fields in the sciences.

It should still be our goal to make sure every student gets a diploma. Educated people are more informed people and are far more likely to head for some sort of post-high school training. They usually are more active in civic life and more able to help their own children succeed in school. Educating young people is the right and decent thing to do; we shouldn't need to pretend it will bring in more tax revenue in order to make it happen.


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--Karin Klein

Photo: Marshall High School in Los Angeles. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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