If you want to understand our nation’s priorities, start by looking at how we spend our resources and where we plan to invest future resources.
It seems that the only place where federal budgets are targeted for significant increases next year is national defense. We already spend about $611 billion on national defense; the current administration is proposing to spend an additional $58 billion in 2018, and the initial 2018 budget out of the House proposes to spend over $700 billion. This is more money than the next eight countries in the world (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan) spend on defense combined, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Just as you can tell what is important by looking at where a nation invests, you can tell what is not important by looking at where it cuts. For the United States, education spending for all Americans is on the chopping block in a significant way.
Research tells us that education is the number one variable related to individual employment opportunity and stability. According to statistics from the Department of Labor, when unemployment hit 10 percent in 2009 during the Great Recession, it was only 5 percent for college graduates and about 2 percent for Americans with graduate degrees.
According to the Center on Education and Workforce at Georgetown University, “Of the 11.6 million jobs created after the Great Recession, 8.4 million (72 percent) went to those with at least a bachelor’s degree. Another 3 million (26 percent) went to those with associate’s degrees or some college education.”
In March, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than one-third of Americans age 25 and older had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher for the first time in decades of data.
Writing for CNNMoney.com in June 2016, Tami Luhby reported “Some 45 percent of Americans age 25 to 64 have an associate’s degree or higher … [and] some 42 percent of young adults age 18 to 24 are enrolled in higher education.”
If education is imperative to job creation in America, why is the federal government under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposing to cut our nation’s investments in education by about $10 billion? DeVos has proposed cuts that are specifically targeting after-school programs that, according to the journal American Educator, serve about 1.6 million children. She also wants to cut teacher-training programs by $2.1 billion, federal loans for college students by $700 million, career and technical education funding by $168 million and federal work-study programs by about $500 million. These cuts not only reduce the number of young children who will receive educational services they need, but the number of Americans who will be able to attend college.
Not all education funding, however, will see decreases if the administration’s budget is approved. DeVos has requested that $400 million of the cuts mentioned previously “be diverted to charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools” according to the American Educator. Tamara Hiler of the think tank Third Way calls DeVos “tone deaf” as she steers money away from career and technical education programs that helps rural communities that elected her boss, to private schools that would not benefit rural communities who have few private school choices, even if they could afford the option.
If you want to “grow the workforce” says Alia Wong writing for The Atlantic, job training programs are not the place to save money. But education funding for preschool to adult education programs seem to be the newest target for many Republicans as their perception of the value of education declines. A recent poll by Pew Research Center found that 58 percent of Republicans view colleges and universities as having “a negative effect on the country” compared to 72 percent of Democrats who see higher education as having a positive effect.
When the Great Recession hit, guess who lost their jobs? According to Luhby, of the 7.2 million jobs lost between December 2007 and January 2010, 78 percent of them were “workers with no more than a high school diploma.” And these are the jobs that have still not recovered from the recession. These are the people who voted for presidential candidate Donald Trump, and these are the people his cuts in education and job training will hurt the most.
For the majority of Americans in today’s economy, education is a positive variable on any measure. Research has shown that it is the single most important variable related to job creation, job security and employment income for the American people.
Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is program coordinator of the human services management graduate program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.