The Rochester City School District has struggled with an embarrassingly low graduation rate for years. Less than half of students who start high school graduate with the state-mandated Regents diploma on time. Many students over the four years will drop out, choosing to sell drugs or engage in other illicit activities. But this post isn’t about why youth are choosing this life. It’s about what happens when they want to abandon it later in life.
In my Urban Poverty class, we were recently tasked with looking up local job openings. We had to have a clear picture of who was hiring where, the pay, and the experience/education needed.
I encourage you to check out the listings. The task focused on the lack of education and experience in our community and how this understandably hinders those looking for work in an increasingly educated society.
Youth who are dropping out of school at 16 almost completely disbar themselves from any kind of legitimate work. Target, Chipotle, and many other retail and food service positions all ask for high school degrees or the equivalent. They are additionally hindered if they chose to work jobs that they can’t then place on their resume to demonstrate experience. This is a nice way of saying that if youth choose those aforementioned illicit activities then they cannot expect to brag about this work on a resume. And a gap in work experience, or none whatsoever, further damages their possibilities. Without a high school degree, the average salary is only about $22,000.
Where does this leave our community?
According to City-Data.com, about 20% of Rochesterians over the age of 25 don’t have a high school degree. It’s a horrible cycle. Without the degree, finding legitimate work is difficult. Without legitimate work, they must find other ways of providing for themselves (or their family). When they do so, they create gaps in the resume and skills that do not transfer as well in the working world.
Therefore, many are relegated to this shadowy part of our community. It’s a decision made at a young age and is based on logic that ranges from the frivolous “school isn’t worth my time” to “I have more pressing needs in my life right now.” The decision made by our students at approximately 16 years of age is a long-lasting choice that can dictate the quality of life going forward.
We have vocational training and GED courses as options and I don’t believe that there is only one path to success. However, we have to help our youth fully understand the consequences of dropping out and not pursuing any kind of alternative. While these paths may not get you a corner office, it can secure a foundation from which to work and help learn practical work skills that can translate in future advancement or employment.
And that is much better than trading in two years of no testing and teachers for years of intense financial struggling and barriers at every turn.