Monday, March 5, 2012

A long tunnel, still no light for those at the back of the line



Despite the trickle of promising economic forecasts making the headlines of late, several recent reports remind us that employment prospects for workers with minimal education remain bleak.

  • More Than Half Of Older High School Dropouts Not Employed Today: More than half of American high school dropouts above age 25 are currently out of work, The Wall Street Journal reported on February 21. Moreover, those who didn't finish high school see few signs that their situation will change any time soon: While 1.8 million college graduates have found work since January 2010, some 128,000 high school dropouts have lost their jobs during the same period.  The effects of mass unemployment will be felt by this group for years to come.  As the Huffington Post adds, "High school dropouts stand to earn about $400,000 less over the next five decades than their peers who earned a diploma, and they're twice as likely to end up living in poverty as Americans who have completed high school.  Overall, the employment rate for young adults ages 18 to 24 is the lowest it's been in sixty years."

  • (Of course, these days even a college degree does not always provide protection from the hard labor market.  In a report released at the beginning of February, Five Long-Term Unemployment Questions, the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative discovered that, once unemployed, college graduates and even advanced degree holders are as likely to experience long-term joblessness as high school dropouts.)

  • In Today's Economy, How Far Can A GED Take You?  Many young people who consider dropping out of school believe that passing the General Educational Development test, or GED, will provide them with an educational credential equivalent to a high school diploma.  As NPR reported on February 18, however, employers feel otherwise.  The latest research shows that people with GEDs are, in fact, no better off than dropouts when it comes to their chances of getting a good job.  The reason: especially for lower-end jobs, employers are looking for characteristics like "perseverance and tenacity, and those kinds of qualities that are not measured by the GED."  Instead, employers generally view the GED as a poor replacement for the dedication required to successfully complete four years of high school classes.  

The fact that only one in ten GED holders eventually goes on to receive a college degree further calls into question whether the test really demands the same level of educational attainment as a high school diploma.  To allay these fears, the current GED format will be replaced by two new tests in 2014 — one that's aligned with more rigorous high school standards, the other more attuned to career and college readiness.  Nicole Chestang, vice president of the GED Testing Service, explains "We are developing a GED test in the future which will point toward more information for employers and colleges and individuals about the basic skills that they have and at what level have they mastered them."

  • No Diploma, No Job.  Finally, Philadelphia's WHYY public radio station and Philadelphia Public School Notebook,  an independent, nonprofit news service, have teamed up to cover the many dimensions of life for young people who leave Philadelphia's school early and find themselves stuck in neighborhoods where unemployment tops 50%. 


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