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High School Dropouts: How They Affect Taxpayers And The Economy

School Dropout

First Posted: 07/25/11 12:48 PM ET Updated: 09/24/11 06:12 AM ET

Over the next week, NPR's Claudio Sanchez will air a five-part series on the fiscal burden of America's high school dropouts.

In an overview of the series Sunday, Sanchez told NPR's Linda Wertheimer on Weekend Edition Sunday that dropouts cost taxpayers between $320 billion and $350 billion a year in lost wages, taxable income, health, welfare and incarceration costs, among others.

Not only are high school dropouts a cost to the economy, but a cost to themselves as well. Of the 3.8 million students that start high school this year, a quarter won't receive a diploma. Those who don't finish will earn $200,000 less than those who do over their lifetime, and $1 million less than a college graduate, Sanchez says.

Dropouts are not eligible for 90 percent of the jobs in our economy, and a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds in the U.S., contributing to a rising unemployment rate.

The biggest challenge in deriving solutions is states' individual data sets.

"The data right now is so unreliable, so useless because states essentially collect their own data and most of states don't really have a good way to come up with accurate estimates," Sanchez told Wertheimer. "And so if states ever get a handle on the data, I think it'll go a long ways toward really solving this problem because people will know what we're up against."

NPR is discussing the issue through the lens of five people across the country. See the full schedule and profiles of the subjects at NPR.

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Filed by Emmeline Zhao  |