Friday, July 16, 2010

Meeting the Challenge

We are all aware of the great effort across this nation to increase the number of high school graduates. Well guess what.

President Obama is not impressed with your high school diploma. Neither is Wal-Mart.

This is a recent headline in the Atlantic magazine which talks about Wal-Mart offering college scholarships for its employees. It seems that soon you may need a college degree even to work at Wal-Mart.

This is encouraging from an education perspective. But it is also a little worrisome when you consider that our major manufacturing industries – the ones for which no special education was required - are no longer here. For many now, the best employment option is to work somewhere like WalMart.

Our local educational attainment rates mean that more than 80 percent of our population won’t be able to work at WalMart if they need a college degree.  In fact, the fastest growing occupations require at least some education beyond high school. You can see in the chart below that while there are some jobs that require on-the-job-training, most of these jobs will need a bachelor’s degree.

What don’t you see here? Manufacturing jobs.  

Wal-Mart is not alone in pushing for more people to earn college degrees. In just the last few months, President Obama announced his American Graduation Initiative to boost graduation rates. And while that has been shelved due to the health care reform debate, the goal of increasing the number of American graduates remains. Grow by Degrees is a state initiative to add 70,000 graduates in the next 10 years. The Global Skills for College Completion Project also aims to increase student success and graduation rates. Such initiatives are popping up all over the place these days.

Why such urgency to increase the number of college graduates? Because this nation is losing ground to our international competitors.

While we once stood at the top tier in terms of producing college graduates, we are being usurped by nations like China and Singapore. Where once we led the world in the percentage of adult workers who have a degree, by some counts, the U.S. now ranks 17th of those with a bachelor’s degree among major industrialize nations.

Fewer college graduates mean a weakened economy because the best jobs, the innovative programs, the largest contracts go to the folks with the most education. The costs are huge: America, once the world’s superpower could become a second, or even third rate nation.

You know, We complain because our industries are moving overseas. We shudder when we answer a call or make a call for service and hear a foreign accent on the other end of the line.

But the real threat isn’t just that these jobs have been outsourced overseas. The real threat is that our high-skill, high-pay jobs are also being filled by people from other countries. Think about it: Why would a company pay $60,000 or more to an American engineer when they can hire an equally or more highly qualified Indian engineer for $15,000?

What’s to be done? We need to take a hard look at ourselves – at our attitudes about the value of education and our work ethic and make the decision to commit to a change.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

If you take a look at this chart, you’ll see that the higher the degree, the more money is earned, and the fewer people who earn it. household income in 2009 was $37,696, per capita income was $20,194, and the average household income was $46,775.  Compare that to 2000: the Martinsville family median income was $35,351 with 19% of population below the poverty line, and the Henry County family median income was $38, 649 with 12% of population below the poverty line. As you can see, things haven’t changed much in the 9 years between 2000 and 2009. In addition, unemployment in our community is still the highest in the state, at just over 20 percent.

It gets worse. Our population is declining. Projections fromo the Economic Development Corporation have the population decreasing over the next 15 years by approximately 2,000 people in both Henry County and Martinsville.

Where are they going? They’re probably looking for jobs. Why aren’t the jobs coming here? According to STATS America, companies that want to relocate are looking for a variety of things, called the Innovation Index. They look for a healthy population of young adults, high tech employment, and a growing number of small businesses. Note that one of the major factors affecting whether a community is considered innovative is educational attainment.

A lack of education doesn’t only affect income and economic development. It hits home in many ways. Teenage and unwed mother pregnancy.
  • Out of 1,000 births in Martinsville, 47 are to teenagers (state average 16) and in Henry County 17 are to teenagers.
  • In Martinsville, the median income for female-based families with children is $18,542, Henry County, $19, 446. The state average is $21,602.
  • The percentage of non-marital births in Martinsville was 62%, in Henry County, 50% compared to the state average of 32%.
    Statistics supplied by United Way of Henry County and Martinsville
Increased crime rates.  Note these headlines from the Martinsville Bulletin inthe past six months.
  • Teen held in store slaying
  • Local teenager indicted in slaying outside Eden club
  • Youth surrenders in shooting death
  • Attempted murder alleged in Patrick
  • Man sought in slaying
  • Trial set in triple slaying
  • Arrests made in robbery
  • Perry: Gang activity is on the rise here
  • Two held on robbery charges
Obesity and other health problems.  Alcohol and substance abuse.
The only way our community is going to be revitalized economically and societally is to increase the number of college graduates.  The only way our nation is going to maintain, and even better, its standing internationally is to increase the number of college graduates. 

What can you do to meet the challenge?  Get this message out every chance you get.  Encourage young people, old people, all people to get educated and earn that degree! Our community will be a better, stronger and safer place for it.

1 comment:

  1. Research clearly shows that the more education one attains the less likely one is to be a substance abuser, live in poverty, become incarcerated, require social services, or endure poor health. Poverty rates, substance abuse, and other indicators negatively affect our ability to attract new business or to grow those that currently exist. Increasing the region's educational attainment rate must be our number one priority!