A study from MDC, a nonprofit research center in Durham, finds a monumentally disturbing truth: North Carolina, when compared to the rest of the country, is a place where young people have a tough time achieving ‘’upward mobility,” pulling themselves out of lower-income upbringings to attain better jobs, to enjoy take advantage of more opportunities, to live more fulfilling lives than the generation of their struggling parents. The American Dream isn’t just elusive for many; it is unattainable.
That has implications for all of North Carolina.
MDC finds that, for example, the population of poor and minority children with the least education is growing, but opportunities for many of them are not. In the long term, that will mean a workforce stuck in low-paying, low-skill jobs. The youngster from that poor or lower-middle-class family who wants more, who is willing to work for a better education, will find that Dream is not like a rung on a ladder that can be grabbed, but like a slippery rope.
And so that youngster is stuck. He or she will be relegated to that low-paying part of the job force — and the painful irony is those youngsters face that problem at the very time when those kinds of jobs are diminishing in favor of higher-skill work that requires ever more education. Their state will be stuck, too. Prospective employers, all those “high tech” companies business recruiters talk about, won’t look to North Carolina to find the workers they need, and so they won’t look to North Carolina as a home base.
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There’s no secret to the way to change this profoundly disturbing trend. It’s education.
It’s bolstering the public schools with major investment, not tiny raises for teachers, not bare-minimum curricula, not school budgets that “get by” to just maintain the status quo. It means an unprecedented commitment to helping the students most in need with more time in the classroom and more intense instruction. It means providing as well for students in the middle, who may have the potential for higher education but lack the resources to attain it.
The facts as reported by MDC are stark: Of children born into families in North Carolina making less than $25,000 a year, only one-third will come into the middle- and upper-income levels when they’re grown; a family with just one parent and one child needs to make $21 an hour to cover living expenses, but just about 26 percent of full-time jobs pay median earnings at that level; children born into low-income families are like to stay poor — forever.
Said David Dodson, president of MDC: “The upward mobility story, the American dream, is really central to out notions of a successful life. And the sad story is too many people are stuck, generation to generation, at the bottom.”