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Editorial: Preckwinkle and Emanuel are on same page

Sunday, December 09, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle got it right last week — almost.

It is indeed impossible for Chicago to arrest its way out of its crime problem, as Preckwinkle said last Thursday. In frustration, she lit into Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, saying they “have decided the way in which they’re going to deal with the terrible violence that faces our community is just arrest everybody.”

The real solution, she says, is to improve the life prospects for young people.

“We have contented ourselves with a miserable education system that has failed many of our children,” Preckwinkle said Thursday. “I think as a society, we have to focus more on our public education system and devote frankly more resources to it.”

Where Preckwinkle veered off course is in suggesting that Emanuel sees things differently, though she later backed off. From day one, Chicago’s mayor has made it clear that successful crime fighting requires far more than police officers. Better schools — a cause he has fought hard for — stronger communities and more responsible parents are all vital ingredients, Emanuel has said time and again.

A report being released on Monday underscored just how much is at stake — and how just how much work there is to do.

When a kid gets a lousy education or drops out, crime is one path. Another, related path is unemployment, low wages and a dead-end future.

High school dropouts in Chicago are significantly less likely, of course, to be employed and earn less than Chicagoans with a high school degree or higher. And young workers, particularly dropouts, have been disproportionately impacted by the Great Recession, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data commissioned by the Alternative Schools Network in Chicago. The research was done by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

The disparities in employment are striking and grow as dropouts get older. Between 33 and 39 percent of Illinois dropouts ages 35 to 54 did not work at all during 2010 and 2011. That jumps to 54 percent for 55-to-64 year olds.

The disparities in mean lifetime earnings are equally jarring.

Over their lifetimes, dropouts in Illinois can expect to earn $574,000. This compares with $1.09 million for high school graduates, $1.5 million for those with an associate’s degree and $2.4 million for college grads.

This dropout crisis does not cut across Chicago evenly. Boys, particularly blacks and Latinos, are the most likely to drop out. The Northeastern report shows a disturbingly high percentage of foreign-born Latino men between 19 and 24 years old in Chicago who lack a high school diploma: 46 percent.

A key answer to these pernicious problems, of course, lies in improving schools and re-enrolling dropouts as quickly as possible. Funding for vitally important re-enrollment initiatives has taken a hit in recent years, and public officials should redouble their efforts to make it a top priority, even in these lean fiscal times.

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