Education Causes Poverty in America
James C. Wilson, Ed.D.
The concept of causation is treated with kid gloves by our university researchers. I understand that it is important to protect social science research from people who have no standards and make outlandish connections about human behavior. Having said that, I stand by my notion that it is education that causes poverty in America. Clearly, this notion requires explanation.
There is substantial research that documents how much more money college grads make than those who haven’t achieved a college degree. And there is equally substantial research about the terrible lives of high school dropouts. In both of these large research topics, they claim causation to be education or the lack of education. There is little or no research tying back the lack of learning employment skills in high school to those living in poverty. This is the specific causation that I am asserting. I ran career technical education programs for thousands of adults who returned to adult education to get the employment skills they didn’t get in high school. They were extremely happy to get the skills that enabled them to find work. It doesn’t take a dissertation to prove causation between obtaining technical work skills and obtaining employment.
It isn’t education in general that causes poverty. Specifically, it is the lack of high school career technical education that causes poverty. The American educational system enrolls essentially all kids in high schools. It is a captive audience. However, we systematically let them escape without skills to be able to obtain employment to support themselves. The high school career technical education intervention must occur early, the earlier the better. The highest high school dropout rate occurs in the ninth grade and others drop out while remaining in school.
Currently, millions of young people find themselves out of high school and largely unemployable. Yes, they try fast food employment, and they are treated like animals for minimum wage. They hate it and quit. The reality is in America today, without serious technical work skills, an individual cannot make a decent living. Because they cannot make a decent living, many of these youth resort to gangs, prostitution, drugs, crime, and end up incarcerated. This is why we have two and a half million people in America’s prisons and an additional four and a half million on parole and probation. Once they are in this negative continuum, it is very difficult to save them. The programs for gang members and ex-cons are Band-Aids that have limited success. Repairing damaged people is much harder than preventing the damage in the first place.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the best approach to solving poverty is to attack its root cause. The problem is the lack of coordination of government. The police catch the young individuals committing crime, but there is no return loop to the school board to force them to change their policies. Mayors and governors complain about crime and call for more police and longer jail sentences. This simplistic rhetoric doesn’t solve the problem because they do not deal with causation. This tragedy goes on because different parts of government don’t talk to each other in America. The police and mayors do not talk to school boards. It is a fascinating lack of necessary communication. Our leaders must understand that it is always better to prevent the societal problem, rather than to try and fix it after the fact.
This is where we need social science researchers to step up and write books and articles that explain about causation and how more cops and longer sentences are not helping. Yes, government coordination has failed, but so has social science. The professors of sociology, political science, criminal justice, and education can’t just sit there in universities and carp; we need action research that leads to societal structure altering actions.
A big part of the failure to attract societal attention to this issue of causation is that it isn’t terribly sexy. The media doesn’t see it as an exciting topic so it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The confluence of lack of government coordination, lack of social science activism, and the lack of media attention has left the root cause of poverty in America unattended. Thus, the continuum of dropping out or doing poorly in high school leading to lives of crime and incarceration continues.
Until we find national leadership on this issue of high school career technical education, poverty in America will continue. And this issue of poverty is directly related to ongoing Black unrest in America. Poor people in America do not have the skill set to be capable of most work. And Black people are over-represented in poverty. This lack of leadership leaves all poor people prey to negative activities and outcomes. The failure of leadership to change high school education is a secondary cause of poverty in America. Until we get leadership on the causation of poverty, nothing will change.