Joblessness and Jailing: The Truth about Dropping Out of High School

A new report on the effects of unemployment on our nation’s youth stands the world we live in on its head.  This latest study, The Consequences of Dropping Out of High School: Joblessness and Jailing for High School Dropouts and the High Cost for Taxpayers from the Center for Market Studies at Northeastern University, mistakes the effects for the cause.  This pernicious argument elevates the reactionary practice of blaming the victims of social ills of capitalism to new heights.  The heart of the report is summarized in chart 1:

Chart 1

Chart 1 establishes the fact that the historic relationship between unemployment and incarceration under US capitalism is especially ruinous for high school dropouts and absolutely devastating for Black youth in America.  The data from the US Department of Justice and US Census Bureau (CPS Surveys) show that the annual average unemployment rate for 16-24 year old Black high school dropouts was close to 70% (68.9%) in 2008 and that the incarceration rate for the group has been approaching I in 4 (22.9%) in recent years.  These indisputable facts of life erode the families and communities and cloud the future of Black youth in the US today.

On the basis of these facts, the researchers from Northeastern University quite preposterously support the fiction that the high unemployment and incarceration rates in the most disadvantaged sector of US society are consequences dropping out of high school.

The implication of the study is that, if these young people would just stay in school, the problem of mass incarceration would be solved and US taxpayers would be relieved of the onerous expense of incarcerating a sizable proportion of a whole generation.

The marginalization of the Black working class in the US, a basic structural adjustment to the globalization of the US economy — the real cause of the crisis — receives only a passing mention in the conclusion of the study.  After quoting President Obama’s admonition to young people about quitting school in his first speech to the US Congress, the university researchers chime in: It is fair to add that our country’s labor markets also have quit on them, failing to provide the employment and real earnings to male dropouts it once did especially in the Golden Era from 1947-1973.

Again we are tutored that it is the “invisible hand” of the free market that shapes the destinies of men — the gospel of neoliberal capitalism.

As the meltdown of the US economy continues apace, the employment problems, not only for high school dropouts but for all working people in the US, become clearer: while we are living in a world where remunerative employment and an adequate standard of living were recognized as universal human rights over 60 years ago, we are citizens of a nation where the interests of capitalism still prevail over the rights of men and women.

It is time to take a close look at the socialist alternative to running a country.

Richard D. Vogel is an independent socialist writer who monitors the effects of globalization on working people and their communities and is the editor of From the Left — A US Forum on Combating Globalization.  He can be contacted at <>.

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