Bear with me while I quote some statistics.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Florida’s unemployment rate was 6.2% in July 2008 and 6.5% in August, a statistically significant increase. The change in unemployment rate for Florida from August 2007 to August 2008 was 4.2% to 6.5%, another statistically significant increase. For the Daytona Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), it’s worse; unemployment jumped from 4.5% in August 2007 to 7.2% in August 2008. Palm Coast, just to our north, has an unemployment rate in August 2008 of 10.3%.
From the US Census Bureau: The poverty line for 2007, for a 4 person family with two children, is $21,027. The percentage of people in the Daytona Beach MSA below the poverty line is 14.5%.
It’s conventional wisdom for community colleges: when unemployment goes up, enrollment goes up. Our enrollment this fall went up 17%. Many of our students are still employed, but they are trying to improve their skills and training by returning to school for a degree or certificate program. Our students are smart: by returning to school they are improving their chances of staying out of poverty.
Income increases with education: for those with less than a 9th grade education, average income is $23,139 for men and $16,636 for women. For those with 9th – 12th grade education, i.e. high school dropouts, average income is $27,067 for men and $19,620 for women. For those with a high school diploma or equivalent, average income is $36,805 for men and $24,228 for women. The increases continue – the more education you have, the higher your salary should be, up to over $100,000 with a doctorate. For a man with a high school diploma or equivalent (such as a GED), completing some college (even without a degree) increases his average salary by $8000; for a woman, it’s $6000. Completing an associate’s degree adds another $1300-$1800 onto average salary.
The income gap between women and men is obvious: a man can theoretically live above the poverty line (albeit not much above) with less than a 9th grade education. For a woman, she needs to finish high school or pass the GED to lift herself out of poverty. Girls who drop out of high school are almost guaranteeing themselves a life of poverty.
There are options to staying in “regular” high school. One department of our college is the largest high school in our county. Students can work toward a high school diploma, or toward passing the GED. Schedules are much more flexible and the instructors are specially trained to teach these students.
Poverty has many causes and issues; one of them is definitely education. Lack of education or lack of access to education keeps people in poverty, especially women. Globally and locally, there are many organizations that are working to lift barriers to education access for children and families. You can help globally by donating to one of these organizations, and you can help locally by volunteering, working with students and/or women, learning what options are available for alternative education, and encouraging everyone whom it might benefit to stay in school or to go back to school. Your local community college is an excellent place to start.