Education Economics01/17

High School Dropout/Non-Graduates

One of the most underestimated economic variables burdening the nation is the cost of high school dropout/non-graduates. Dropout/non-graduates are high school students who fail to graduate on time or who receive a special diploma or G.E.D.

A review of the literature reveals dropout/non-graduates earn 20 percent less than graduates, are 72 percent more likely to be unemployed and have a lower annual salary median ($20,241 per year compared to $30,627 per year). They have more negative work experiences, more teen pregnancies and more family-relation struggles.

And they are more inclined to adopt unhealthy lifestyles, depend on government assistance programs and contribute less to the nation’s productivity, well-being and quality of life. Moreover, dropout/non-graduates are more disposed to student misbehavior traits: tardiness, truancy, classroom disruptions, teacher disrespect and confrontations. Furthermore, they are more prone to school expulsions, juvenile crime and they represent 75 percent of state-prison inmates and 64 percent of local-jail inmates. Finally, dropout/non-graduates are more susceptible to joining negative counter-cultures: gangs, cults, extremist groups, etc.

The cost of the nation’s dropout/non-graduates has been estimated to be $157 billion a year. This estimated cost was ascertained by multiplying ($51,850) – the estimated annual cost of an “individual” dropout/non-graduate as reported by Belfield, Levin, and Rosen (2012) – by the estimated annual number of high school dropout/non-graduates(3,030,000), as reported in Ed Week (2011).


Obesity-overweight is the fastest growing economic variable burdening the nation’s economy. A review of the literature reveals a wide range of estimated costs for this economic variable. Therefore, a strike-a-balance estimate for the annual cost of the obesity-overweight variable has been projected to be $266 billion.

Physical Inactivity

Physical inactivity is a costly economic variable directly related to obesity. The annual cost of physical inactivity has been estimated to be $84 billion (Amer. J. of Prevent. Med., 2004).


Smoking tobacco, second hand smoke and smokeless tobacco are other costly variables burdening the nation’s economy. These variables cost the nation an estimated $193 billion a year in direct healthcare costs and lost productivity (CDC, 2009).

Alcohol Excess

Excessive alcohol drinking is another variable burdening the nation’s economy. Alcohol excess costs the nation an estimated $223 billion a year in direct-medical costs and loss of productivity (CDC, 2009).


Welfare is yet another costly economic variable burdening the nation’s economy Rectors’ (2001) estimated annual cost for this variable has been adjusted to be $1.7 trillion.

High Stakes Testing

The annual cost of the high-stakes testing variable has been estimated to be $50 billion (Ed. Week, 2014).


Crime is another costly economic variable burdening the nation’s economy. Anderson’s (2009) estimated annual cost of crime has been adjusted to be $3.4 trillion.


The final major variable to be considered is the cost of national health care. The CDC’s (2013) estimated annual cost of national health care has been adjusted to be $3.2 trillion.

Note: The cost of the economic variables reported herein were cited from survey studies. And the sampling error inherent in these type of studies makes clear the need to label all projected costs as “estimated.” It should also be noted: The estimated cost of crime, health care and welfare were reported as “adjusted,” because the cost for these economic variables relative to dropout/non-graduates and obesity had already been reported.

Finally, it should be noted: The available survey studies reviewed to calculate the annual $8.8 trillion estimated cost of the economic variables burdening the nation date back to 2002. Therefore, considering the dynamic growth forecast for these economic variables, their reported cost estimates may be significantly lower than the projected current costs.


The cost of littering to the nation’s economy is estimated to be $1.5 billion a year. Compared to other economic variables, the cost of littering is not a significant economic factor. However, littering is a significant behavioral factor, because it reflects the indifference litterers have toward maintaining the beauty of the nation’s highways, parks and local communities. Litterers empty cigarette-butt receptacles from their cars in shopping-center parking lots; throw fast-food trash and empty cans and bottles out of car windows as they drive through neighborhood enclaves; discard old mattresses, furniture, and bags of garbage in alleys and empty lots; and frivolously cast off the weatherproof plastic sacks covering delivered newspapers after picking up the morning paper. These irresponsible acts of conduct reflect a spiritless concern for the nation’s environmental attractiveness and represent someone who does not zealously love their country. Litterers are persons who may be considered unpatriotic.

Table 1

Economic Variable Estimated Costs
Dropout/non-graduates $157 billion
Obesity $266 billion
Physical Inactivity $84 billion
Tobacco $193 billion
Alcohol $223 billion
High Stakes Testing $50 million
Welfare $1.7 trillion
Crime $3.4 trillion
Health Care $3.2 trillion
Total $8.8 trillion

The projected annual $8.8 trillion cost to the nation’s economy will roll-over each year, burdening the taxpayers accordingly. Keep this economic burden in mind as you contemplate the next phase of this presentation.


Education is an investment in human capital

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