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America's Forgotten Half

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‘The Forgotten Half’ study was conducted by the William T. Grant Foundation in the late 1980s. It reported on the school-to-work transition of youth and found the high school system deficient in imparting vital work-related skills to the youth. Secondly, about 50% of young Americans were not enrolled in a 4-year college degree program. By not attending college and without adequate vocational skills, members of this cohort are more likely to end up within the 15% of Americans who today live under the poverty line.

A follow up study found that about 66% of employers believe that a high school diploma is not a valid indicator for requisite skills for employment. The problem is all the more severe with high school drop outs. Consequently, the Foundation reported that a diminished set of economic opportunities are available for those not headed for college.    

Many countries such as Germany, provide vocational education in a systematic manner to the non-college bound. Apprenticeship programs in such fields as carpentry and plumbing ensure that there is no deficit of skill sets. On the other hand, there continues to be a relative absence of large-scale systematic dispensation of skills in the U.S.   

America has shifted its position on poverty at times. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘The Great Society’ was a set of national programs intended to eradicate poverty. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan suggested on the other hand, in 1969, that matters might improve following a period of ‘benign neglect’. Such confusion regarding the poor persists to this date as was evident from the recent Presidential campaign.
Without consistent clarity on school-to-work transition and with the better paid jobs of the manufacturing sector shifting overseas, the blue collar worker is facing increasing chances of unemployment or of working for less money in service sector jobs. This raises the population of the working poor.

The Federal Government continues to do its bit for the poor through food stamps, tax credits and subsidized healthcare. Its expenditure on food stamps was the highest ever last year. As a result, demand for food did not plunge during the Great Recession. We add that providing programmed and relevant vocational skill sets may tackle a part of the persistent problems of the poor.

The poverty stricken may visit Salvation Army for essentials. Those who are value conscious may buy consumer staples at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT - Free Report) and get a quick bite to eat at McDonald's Corp. (MCD - Free Report) . Target Corp. (TGT - Free Report) offers goods that are both trendy and relatvely inexpensive.

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