Solving the U.S. education crisis

College Graduation Caps

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: President Obama sat down this week with Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke to talk about the many headwinds facing this economy. There's plenty to talk about -- unemployment, deficits, debt in Europe. Marketplace's economics editor Chris Farrell says there is another challenge to our economy that is not getting as much attention as it should. Good morning, Chris.

Chris Farrell: Good morning, Bill.

Radke: You think we ought to be talking about an economic crisis in education.

Farrell: Yes. As bad as unemployment is for the country as a whole, it is terrible if you hadn't gone to college. I mean the unemployment rate for people with a high school degree only is double the rate of people who have at least a college degree. And by the way, if you don't have a high school diploma, it's even worse.

Radke: Well I get that that is scary for the uneducated worker. How is this, though, a threat to our entire economy?

Farrell: Bill, this is what's happening. You know, the U.S. economy increasingly emphasizes college-educated workers. And business is creating jobs -- there are job openings in this economy, but most requir esome kind of post-secondary education to even apply. So it's become something . . . it's a vicious cycle. Business looks for educated workers, job openings go begging, incomes stay low, unemployment stays high, the rebound is subdued and so on.

Radke: Well here's a problem, Chris: What can we do? Because if it's a government solution, not only is our government in debt, but you know, throwing money at education hasn't necessarily improved it.

Farrell: No you're right, but you know that the alarm bells have been going off, you know, about the failing education system -- especially in the inner city. But now, we can see taht it's economically damaging, so whether it's charter schools, vouchers, smaller high schools, early childhood education, it's not more money, it's a focus on reforming education.

Radke: Reforming education to focus on 21st century-type jobs?

Farrell: It's the focus on 21st century-type jobs, but here's the most important thing: It is to end the crisis with high school dropouts. In some inner cities, the high school dropout rate is 40, 50 percent. This is unacceptable. And these people who drop out then can't take the jobs and can't climb into the middle class. And that's what our society is about -- that our children will live a better life than you and I.

Radke: Marketplace's economics correspondent, Chris Farrell. Thank you, Chris.

Farrell: Thanks, Bill.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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