by Christina J. Daniels
February 19, 2015
In the 2015 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama made the argument that middle-class economics “works.” He defined middle-class economics as, “the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” But does middle-class economics “work?”
Historically, the idea of a fair chance combined with hard work is at the core of the American Dream. Opportunity, integrity, diligence and effort have combined to make America extraordinarily prosperous. Yet what does Mr. Obama mean by “fair share?”
Apparently he believes this share should include taking money from one segment of the population and transferring it to another – specifically, to those who wish to attend community college. It’s to this end that the President says he wants to make attending community college cost-free.
Yet education funded by redistribution cannot meet the requirements of the real-world job market. In 2009, Time Magazine equated a college degree to a driver’s license, due to its availability. CNN noted that “41% of college graduates from the last two years are stuck in jobs that don’t require a degree.” In March 2014, the liberal news source ThinkProgess also noted that “half a Million People with college degrees are working for (the) minimum wage.” The Huffington Post wrote an article giving seven reasons not to go to college and stated, “The people who sent us down the path of higher education clearly don’t understand basic economics and the law of supply and demand.” Currently, jobs that were once for low-skilled workers are crowded with college students.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 19% of high school graduates cannot read, 14% of Americans cannot read and 21% of Americans read below a 5th grade level. By proposing policies such as free community college, the President is ignoring facts in favor of untenable proposals. As the Huffington Post notes, “The U.S. Illiteracy Rate Hasn’t changed in 10 Years:”
According to the Department of Justice, the link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” The stats back up this claim: 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.
In addition, Begin to Read compiled statistics showing, “two out of three children that do not learn to read by the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare”. The article further stated, “Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help.” Illiteracy and prison rates plague the poor and are factors which, as Dr. Patrick Fagan of Marriage and Religion Research Institute documents, further heighten the problem of fatherlessness in America.
So, it’s clear that middle-class economics, as defined by the President, do not “work.” Providing free community college will further devalue education and hurt the poor. When disadvantaged individuals are locked out of society, they do not have a “fair shot,” they cannot do their “fair share,” and they are not playing by the “same set of rules.” To ensure that disadvantaged families have a “fair shot,” liberal politicians must address our nation’s illiteracy problem and its roots – fatherlessness and family breakdown. We should be focusing on helping children that fail kindergarten, families that are locked in multigenerational illiteracy and government dependency and college students struggling to read.
The use of school choice and reforming public housing policy are steps toward making change possible. Giving parents the freedom to choose the school and neighborhood they desire will help alleviate the negative impact of centralized poverty. In high poverty areas, schools and neighborhoods are disproportionately filled with single mothers and peers from less educated households.[i] As Star Parker from the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE) states, we must “bust up” the “ghettos” that public schools and government housing have created. With education and housing choice, we can be sure that everyone is playing by the “same rules” and receives a “fair shot.”
And there is no substitute for a strong, two-parent family in which a mom and a dad get married, stay married, and worship weekly with their children. No community college can ever provide that kind of security, opportunity or love.
[i] Fram, M. S., J. E. Miller-Cribbs, and L. Van Horn. “Poverty, Race, and the Contexts of Achievement: Examining Educational Experiences of Children in the U.S. South.” Social Work 52, no. 4 (2007): 309-19.South