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Report Details Societal Effects of High School Dropout Rates – Including Incarceration

by David M. Reutter

“Dropping out of high school [is] an apprenticeship for prison,” said Illinois State Senator Emil Jones at a 2006 Chicago conference on high school dropouts. An October 2009 report issued by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies demonstrates the truth of that statement and the negative consequences for both dropouts and society as a whole.

The research report “was prepared to outline the employment, earnings, incarceration, teen and young adult parent-ing experiences and family incomes of the nation’s young adult high school dropouts and their better-educated peers in 2006 to 2008.” The report does an excellent job of fulfilling that mission, and the statistics it compiles paint a disturbing picture.

Upon dropping out of high school, the immediate consequence is a labor market problem. During 2008, 54% of the nation’s high school dropouts were unemployed. By contrast, the jobless rate for high school graduates was 32%, for those with 1-3 years of college it was 21% and for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher it was only 13%.

Race played a role in unemployment among high school dropouts, which was 69% for blacks, 57% for Asians, 54% for whites and 47% for Hispanics. The annual income of the households that dropouts came from also affected their job-less rate. Only 38% of dropouts from households making less than $20,000 annually were employed. Those who came from homes with incomes of $20,000 to $100,000 had employment rates of 47% to 55%. While the year-round jobless rate for dropouts was 40%, those with a high school education were employed up to 80% of the time. The mean annual earnings for dropouts in 2007 were only $8,358.

The status as a dropout also correlated with teen pregnancy. “Young female dropouts were six times as likely to have given birth as their peers who were college students or four year college students,” the report found.

Further, being a high school dropout substantially increased the likelihood of ending up in prison. “Nearly 1 of every 10 young male high school dropouts was institutionalized on a given day in 2006-2007 versus fewer than 1 of 33 high school graduates,” notes the report. “The incidence of institutionalization problems among young high school dropouts was more than 63 times higher than among young four-year college graduates.”

A large proportion of dropouts – nearly 37 of every 100 – live in poor or near-poor families. The impact on society is significant, as the average high school dropout will have a negative net financial contribution to society of nearly $5,200. A high school graduate, however, will generate a net fiscal contribution to society of $287,000 in taxes and reduced incar-ceration costs.

In a time when education budgets are being cut to maintain or build more prisons and jails, this report demonstrates the catastrophic consequences of such political and financial short-sightedness. It also illustrates how mass imprisonment works as a social containment policy for the poor and uneducated. The report, The Consequences of Dropping Out of High School, is available on PLN’s website.

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