Education and the Economy

The one remark that stuck with me from Obama’s address to Congress in February went something like “It is your patriotic duty to get an education.” At least, that was how I interpreted it. Some of his actual remarks on education were (as published on npr.org):

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that outteach us today will outcompete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education — from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

—-

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American.

It is nothing new for a president to recognize the importance of education. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush implemented educational initiatives, as I’m sure did the presidents before them. What impressed me about this statement is that President Obama seemed to focus more on personal responsibility: (. . .) I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. I wonder whether any citizens will take this request seriously. Then I hope they do, because it’s true that the productivity of the nation depends on the productivity of its people, and education enables citizens to be more productive.

A New York Times article from March 6 reported that the jobs lost in this recession will not be coming back, as they are indicative of firms’ decisions to leave particular lines of business altogether. This means that economic recovery must include job training, yet the Times reported that the stimulus bill recently passed in Congress includes only $4.5 billion for job training. That seems a little light to me. I would think that, at this time, “making this system work” should include more funding for job training.

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