Follow us:

Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

November 13, 2009 at 9:35 AM

The high economic cost of dropouts and inadequate education

Top of the News: Amid Washington state’s long-shot effort to win billions in new federal education funding comes a new report on the huge costs of high-school dropouts.

Male dropouts were 47 percent more likely than their peers to be incarcerated, and 54 percent of dropouts ages 16 to 24 were likely to be unemployed (vs.13 percent for college graduates). Black and Hispanic dropouts are particularly hard hit.

The findings come from Professor Andrew Sum at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. Some other key data: mean earnings for dropouts were $8,358 in 2007, vs. $24,297 for young college grads, and taxpayers face a cost of $292,000 for every dropout over his or her lifetime from lost earnings (thus lower taxes paid) and higher social costs.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count report, Washington had an “on time” graduation rate of 72 percent in 2006-2007, but only 49 percent for American Indians, 60 percent for Hispanics and 61 percent for blacks. Seven percent of teens were high-school dropouts in 2008. The average for the U.S. is 6 percent (and since you want to know: 7 percent for South Carolina).

The dropout problem can’t be detached from a larger American challenge: competing in a world where knowledge and advanced education increasingly add economic value. This is a no-brainer for Asian nations. For Washington state, it’s a consistent plea and warning from business leaders: improve education.

Charter schools seem to be a stumbling block here. The feds want them; teachers’ unions are opposed. I can tell you from experience in Arizona, the national leader in charters, that they are no cure-all. Arizona’s teen dropout rate is 9 percent and it has some of the most dismal educational outcomes in the nation.

The problem there is that the charters became big business for those politically connected to the Legislature, and while the schools received taxpayer support that might have gone to already underfunded public schools, they faced little transparency or accountability. One charter near my house had a roach coach as the “cafeteria,” driving by at lunch time. Public libraries were flooded with students because their schools lacked libraries. The profit motive was paramount.

Nationally, charters can be an important part of reform, but only when linked to tough standards and in an environment of generally good school funding. “Throwing money at the problem won’t solve it.” Maybe not. But reform doesn’t come cheap.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

D.C.’s real power

Has spoken: On health reform

Nothing is the cure



No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.

The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►