Feature Week of May 16, 2004
THE ECONOMICS OF EDUCATION
Knowledge Is Power That Can Be Transferred
They who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them - Aristotle
Most African Americans’ experiences illustrate that issues of race do matter in American society. But, is racism the central problem precluding blacks from advancing sufficiently in American society? Actually, the problem we all need to focus on is that African Americans are the least educated and least knowledgeable racial group in America.
Most daunting of all is that black Americans are "dead last" (behind whites, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans) in the basics of education: reading proficiency, math proficiency, and science proficiency. In the technology based global economy of the 21st century, "the problem" is not illegal racial discrimination. The problem is perfectly legal "de facto educational discrimination."
To be sure, racism and discrimination are reasons why black Americans are now (and have always been) the least educated and, therefore, the least powerful people in America. For 246 years of slavery, it was illegal to educate black Americans. During the 103 years of the Jim Crow era that followed, what little education that was available to black Americans was separate to ensure that it would be substandard. Therefore, it has only been during the 40 years of the Equal Opportunity era that all black Americans have had the opportunity to obtain a quality education and compete on a nearly level playing field. It may be argued that this has not been long enough to catch up with the rest of America. However, by now, greater numbers of us should have at least recognized "the problem" and made reaching "educational parity" a number one priority.
In the late 1950s economists began to recognize that a person's choice to go to school is an "investment," much like the decision to purchase new capital equipment is for a business. The investment is made because the newer, more productive assets, i.e., the skills and knowledge gained, increase profitability. An individual's expenditure on more education is an addition to "human capital" which increases the person's productivity and income-generating ability. Economists also say that there are significant benefits to society from increases in education, such as more competent and thoughtful citizens, reduced incentive for criminal activity, and so on.
Education and knowledge are gateways that will lead to solutions to all the social and economic problems that afflict black Americans. Black or white, there is ample evidence that an educated citizenry is the single best return on the government's investment. On average, a person with a bachelor's degree earns twice as much over a lifetime as a high school graduate ($2.1 million versus $1.2 million). Education helps people and groups evolve. Educated citizens assure a vital economy; generate new knowledge through research and creative endeavors; give the nation a global advantage; preserve our rich cultural heritage; and generally remain independent of government aid.
College education generally pays off. People with an Associate’s degree earn, on the average, almost twice as much as high school graduates: $33,000 versus $18,900. Based on percentages of population, white Americans earn twice as many college degrees as black Americans. Eighty-three percent of white Americans graduate from high school versus only 74 percent of black Americans.
Because of residual racism our lack of equality in education, minorities and women remain economically disadvantaged: black unemployment rates are over twice white unemployment rates; 97 percent of senior managers in Fortune 1000 corporations are white males; 33.3 percent of blacks live in poverty, compared to 11.6 percent of whites. The net worth of America’s families - value of assets minus debts - is $86,100; but among blacks the median is $19,000.
The bottom line is that "knowledge is power." And, in the final analysis, as long as black Americans remain the least educated and least knowledgeable people in America, we will remain the people with the least amount of power in America.
© 2000-2004 William Reed - www.BlackPressInternational.com