Falling Education Rates Leading to Higher Prison Populations, More Poverty


Do dipping education rates correlate with America’s increase in crime and poverty?

The United States currently leads in the number of its citizens residing in our prison systems. One of every 150 Americans is cut off from society as an inmate, which amounts to over 2 million people at an approximate annual cost of $55 billion. To put that number in perspective, in second place, China imprisons 1.5 million of its citizens. Russia is a distant third at 840,000 people.

Per the 2010 Census, 46.2 million citizens live below the poverty line, which means that their annual income is at most $22,314 for a family of four. In America, one of every six children goes to bed hungry as a member of a growing subclass. Nearly 50% of those children live in a single adult household.

During the president’s State of the Union Address last week, our decreasing high school graduation rates were addressed – a possible cause of both the poverty and imprisonment concern. One of the nation’s best-kept secrets is the falling high school graduation rate since its record high of 77% in 1967. In 2010, more than 30% of American students dropped out of high school. The correlation between education and our growth in both poverty and number of prisoners is indisputable. The common sense principle, “education creates economic opportunity,” has its undeniable corollary today, “lack of education creates long-term societal cost.”

California once acted as the national model for its commitment to funding education. Today, the state spends 11% of its budget supporting its prison system, and less than 8% on education. The cost of $47,000 per prisoner in California is not unique. In 2009, over a dozen states spent more on their prison systems than they did on education. An aging prison population is anticipated to further increase costs as health care expenses accelerate.

The growing poverty rate fostered the enrollment of now over 44 million Americans into the food stamp program SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). A similar number of Americans receive some form of “income assistance” from state and federal sources in programs such as unemployment insurance, housing and energy assistance and Medicaid. 

Both major political parties seem oblivious to the idea that in our nation, the minority subsidizes the majority. However, the elite simply do not make enough income to overcome the needs the many. The 1.4 million people that make up the upper 1% could have their taxes increased by 50% only to net enough revenue to redistribute $1,000 per person to the 158 million Americans living within one standard deviation of the poverty level. 

The biggest challenge facing America involves finding a means to raise the economic opportunities of the poor, while avoiding redistributing the wealth of the top 1%. While politicians debate taxation, a growing majority in America looks for ways to achieve economic stability. The old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you provide him a livelihood,” remains true.

None of the above is intended to dispute the current inequities in America’s tax code, and the likeliness that they will continue. Nor is it intended to dispute that America has an obligation to provide economic support to those who are less fortunate in our society.

Yet, the minority in America today would do well to remember that the poor, or near poor, represent a majority of eligible voters. If this new majority rallies behind a candidate and a party that is intent on representing their agenda regarding long-term job creation, our elite could quickly discover being on the receiving end of a class warfare reform unlike any this nation has seen — since the days of the Great Depression.

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