Of the many battlefields where the half-century-old War on Poverty has been fought, there may be none so important — or difficult to conquer — as our public classrooms.
Here in Southern California, the connection between education and poverty is clear: More than 25 percent of the region’s workers without a high school diploma live in poverty, according to U.S. Census data, and the total number of those living in poverty jumped from 1.9 million in 1990 to 3.2 million in 2012.
This troubling trend has been brought sharply into focus by the Southern California Association of Governments, which reports that the poverty rate has increased three times as fast the population has grown in the six-county region it serves.
Business owners looking to prosper, association officials say, must join the fight to end poverty.
Why? Because poor communities translate into poor business growth opportunities.
Everyone knows regulations and taxes in California stifle the abilities of some businesses to grow. But an unskilled labor force is equally as damaging to the state’s sluggish economic recovery, SCAG officials have found.
That’s why the association plans to mark the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of an "unconditional war on poverty in America" with a gathering Wednesday of business, civic, educational and nonprofit leaders in the hopes they will begin a regional discussion about their role in the fight.
Federal subsidy programs have lifted millions of families over the poverty line, SCAG officials say, but discussions about how these and other families will truly prosper always return to education.
In meetings throughout Southern California, SCAG leaders have been talking up the role business leaders play in ensuring that K-12 schools, community colleges and universities are training students for the right kinds of jobs, especially in high-tech industries.
In partnering with schools, business leaders can be a formidable foe against union interests and other forces that threaten the educational system’s ability to quickly adapt to the needs of emerging industries.
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