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High school dropouts in Luzerne County are three times as likely to be unemployed when compared with graduates, according to a recently released study.

And, dropouts who are in the workforce are earning less than half of the county’s $37,295 median household income — and $23,483 less than a county resident with a bachelor’s degree — according to Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

The study shows how different levels of educational attainment correspond to employment and salary trends.

It also emphasizes the importance for doing more to keep children in schools — and to get dropouts back in the classroom, according to Joan Benso, Pennsylvania Partnership’s president and chief executive officer.

The study uses household income statistics logged over the past three years by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The median household income for Luzerne County was $37,295 two years ago, while high school dropouts earned $16,850 at the time, the study says.

“If you think about trying to just live independently as an adult on that much income, it would be really difficult,” Benso said Tuesday. “But if you think about trying to raise a family making that kind of wage, it’s next to impossible.”

In comparison, a person with a high school diploma or GED earned $25,508 at the time and the average salary climbed by another $5,620 for a person with “some college” experience or an associate degree. A Luzerne County resident with a bachelor’s degree earned $40,333 while pay for a person with a graduate or professional degree climbed to $54,536.

Poverty, unemployment

The study also examined unemployment and poverty rates based on educational background.

Twice as many high school dropouts were unemployed last year, when compared with Luzerne County’s rate, the study says. The county reported a 5 percent unemployment rate while 10.9 percent of dropouts were without jobs, the study says.

Less than 4 percent of high school graduates were unemployed at the time while just above 3 percent of people with a college or associates degree weren’t working in 2007, the report says.

“Data on our workforce, the U.S. Labor Department statistics, say that by 2020, we’ll have a 20 millionperson work labor shortage,” Benso said, adding that there will not be enough service-sector jobs in existence.

Students should be brought back to schools and secure the college degree and perhaps advance to medical and technical fields — where the fastest job growth has been reported, she said.

“It should be some type of college education,” Benso said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean a four-year degree. Then they’re making an income where they’re living comfortably in Pennsylvania’s middle class.”

Poverty rates were subsequently higher for dropouts when compared with figures reported for “all persons” in the county.

The county had a “small area income and poverty estimate” of 12.7 percent in 2005 while an estimated 16.9 percent of Luzerne County dropouts were living in poverty.

In comparison, 9 percent of high school graduates were living in poverty while 7.8 percent of people with college experience or an Associate’s Degree were at poverty level at the time, the report says.

School’s perspective

Benso said the study is evidence that schools have to pursue strategies that effectively engage students. “Dropping out of high school is not something that a student does in one day,” she said. “It’s a process. (Dropouts) tend to have low literacy skills, tend to be behind academically and potentially do not really understand the connection between education and employment opportunity.”

Hazleton Area Acting Superintendent Sam Marolo said he believes the key is intervention — and having guidance counselors and teachers targeting students before they get to the point of failing.

“I think it’s critical we get to these kids,” Marolo said. “Otherwise, they’re condemned to minimum wage.”

Installation of a new student software program will eventually enable district staff to pinpoint struggling students with ease, he said. The district can pick a cut-off score and start pulling students for remedial programs, he said.

“You don’t want to get them when they’re failing,” Marolo said.

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Deb Carr said the district has been offering the Twilight Program, which is designed to help students who are at risk of failing to graduate.

Care teams — which offers academic and lifestyle support for high school students — and the district’s home and school visitor program — which monitors attendance — are other layers designed to keep students in school, Carr said. A state Migrant Education program, run in Hazleton Area in conjunction with Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit, closely monitors academic performance, Carr said.

“By no means have we exhausted our resources,” Carr said. “We continue to look for ways to support our students. We need to look at more avenues.”

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