The Opioid Epidemic Hits Schools On Multiple Levels
I just finished reading “The Opioid Epidemic and the Face of Long-Term Unemployment”, Yves Smith’s post in Monday’s Naked Capitalism. It draws heavily from what she accurately describes as “a must-read story at Bloomberg“, This Is the New Face of American Unemployment. The Bloomberg article profiles five examples of individuals facing long term unemployment, all of which, Ms. Smith contends, are directly or indirectly caused by addictions to opioids.
Two items related to education policy jumped out in the first profile, about a 23 year old from West Virginia who dropped out of school, got a GED, but is finding it difficult to land a job:
“….(the Bloomberg story includes) a factoid that indicts the performance of our ruling classes: “Nearly half of U.S. children now have at least one parent with a criminal record.”
As Nobel Prize winner James Heckman has found, a GED isn’t equivalent to a high school diploma. GED holders do worse in terms of lifetime earning that high school graduates. Heckman posits that the socialization of going to class makes a difference in being able to hold jobs.
When a parent has a criminal record, it is virtually impossible for that parent to secure a decent job because most employers will not hire someone with a record, especially a felony record for drug possession. Yet drug addiction is viewed by medical professionals and— in most cases— by politicians and the public as an illness. The result of criminalizing a medical condition is that those who suffer from the condition find it difficult to land a decent job, which throws them into despair, which then creates a situation where they are inclined to use drugs again. It is a vicious cycle that undercuts the ability of a parent to support his children and thereby diminishes the social mobility that education is intended to promote. The way out of this would be to expunge the criminal records of individuals who remain clean and sober for a set amount of time. This would provide an incentive for the former addict to remain clean and enable them to achieve higher earnings as a result of their hard work.
The connection of socialization and job retention is often overlooked by those who view technology-based learning as the best means of attaining a degree and those who seek to home school their children to avoid subjecting them to the “values” promoted in public education and/or the peer groups and peer they are likely to encounter in public schools. The GED is often offered as an alternative to those students who don’t fit in to school, like the gay young man profiled in the Bloomberg article. But what if schools compelled students to be inclusive instead of accepting a culture that forces LGBT students to seek an alternative to the “traditional” school? Wouldn’t such an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere benefit all children in the school? And wouldn’t such an atmosphere help reduce the possibility of students feeling the need to use drugs to deal with their despair?