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LEARNING: History & Education | January 3, 2005



An Unpublished Letter to Los Angeles Times

In "Congratulations! You're About to Fail", Richard Lee Colvin warns of the dangers of too few people earning college degrees -- an excellent point -- but there is much more to consider.

As for those who start college but who do not complete their degrees, Mr. Colvin writes: "That's bad for them, as they'll be sporadically unemployed and the jobs they do find as clerks, healthcare aides and the like will rarely pay health benefits."

Such a "fate" -- including less than living wages and no real plan for retirement -- awaits millions more who do not even enter college, for any number of pragmatic or personal reasons.

But if it were not for the work done by the millions without a college degree -- almost three-quarters of the adults in this country -- then our economy would come to a grinding halt; and if those jobs must be done -- by human beings -- then they must pay living wages, with all the healthcare and other benefits that human beings need and deserve.

With a record number of millionaires and billionaires in our economy, we cannot claim "poverty" as an excuse for such wages and benefits not being paid, to those who perform most of our labor and who consume most of our goods and services.

Most Americans -- particularly those from disadvantaged groups trying to better the lives of their children -- rightfully support college education. However, it is economically and morally indefensible to condemn to lives of poverty millions of "clerks, healthcare aides and the like."

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