Friday, May 18, 2012

Regenerating America: the Next 35%

Bringing America back means caring about those just down from the top—the next 35%—those who are trying. If the next 35% succeed, so too can those below them, in a cascade, not a trickle.

Last year, we found that the top 20% (quintile) of U.S. households actually contains, because of larger households at the top, 25% of our population. We also found the top group makes up 26% of the electorate. Though this better-educated 25% tends to be liberal and vote Democratic, Republicans and conservatives are also present in the top quarter. Living there is truly competitive, with many options available. Educated, employed, involved, successful—those living at the top have a good life.

What about the bottom 75%? I believe lack of education—good education, any education—limits their options. Here are today’s educational facts (for the population over 25):

➢ we have an underclass of 12%--those who didn’t even graduate from high school;

➢ those who have achieved educational success—graduating from college—make up 30% of the population;

➢ an additional 27% have some college education, including 10% with associate (junior college) degrees, and;

31% of the population are high school graduates only.

Below the top 25%, the “next 35%” then include some college graduates--those doing less well economically--plus most of those who have education beyond high school, as well as some high school graduates with higher ambitions.

This group can benefit greatly from what the New York Times’ Tom Friedman writes about in his latest column. Friedman has found that online courses from top universities are wildly popular, highly accessible, and cheap, making superior education much more widely available. So we have an immediate, welcome, high technology payoff.

Let the upper class marinate in their club-like, ivy-covered educations. Achievement-oriented people from poorer families now can receive the benefits of a top education at a fraction of the cost.

Success, of course, is marked by so much more than educational attainment. We used to stream students by academic achievement and aptitude scores. Now we know humans possess many varieties of intelligence. Educational choice, multiple educational opportunities, enable each person to triumph in pursuit of the dream most inspiring to that individual.

What’s required is personal responsibility. That’s something beyond “Life of Julia” feeding at the public trough.

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