High school dropouts in Ohio who are 25 or older are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as job-seekers of the same age that have high school diplomas, a review of federal data by the Dayton Daily News found.
Ohio’s dropouts also are less likely to be employed or looking for work than their counterparts in most other states, and opportunities for high school dropouts are expected to continue to shrink.
The workplace has changed in recent decades and employers increasingly want workers with technical skills and higher levels of education because jobs are becoming more complicated, experts said.
“Competition for jobs is so fierce right now that dropouts are squeezed out of most opportunities,” said Michael Carter, superintendent of School and Community Partnerships at Sinclair Community College.
In 2012, only about 35 percent of Ohioans 25 and older who did not finish high school participated in the labor force, and only 30 percent were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Last year, Ohio had a lower labor force participation rate among adult high school dropouts than all but five states. That demographic in Ohio is less likely to be employed than counterparts in 43 other states.
About 244,000 Ohioans 25 and older without high school diplomas were employed last year, and 561,000 were not.
Some students drop out because of life events, such as a pregnancy or an arrest. Some have discipline or attendance problems or believe finishing school will not make a difference in what jobs they can get.
But the most common reason students drop out is that they live in poverty and they struggle to make it to school, said Robert Balfanz, research professor at the School of Education at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.
These students receive failing grades and drop out because they believe they cannot succeed in the academic environment.
Regardless of cause, dropping out often has dire consequences, especially in today’s unforgiving job market.
In 2012, 13.7 percent of high school dropouts in Ohio 25 and older were unemployed, compared to 7 percent of high school graduates of the same age and 3.4 percent of adults with bachelor’s degrees or higher degrees, labor data show.
Employers want to hire workers who already have some job skills, and they definitely prefer workers who have a diploma, Balfanz said.
“At some level, (finishing school) reflects core competencies of the modern workplace,” Balfanz said. “You’ve got to show up, you’ve got to do the work and you’ve got to be able to interact with a lot of different people.”
Kassi Burt, 30, of Quincy, said she dropped out midway through her senior year of high school because she was pregnant and wanted to work to support her child.
Burt later obtained her GED and completed nursing school, but says she regrets dropping out.
“A GED is what it is, but I wish I had my diploma because I have several siblings and they all have diplomas, and they’ve gone farther in life with just the diploma,” she said. “People don’t look at a GED the same way they look at a diploma.”
Global competition and technological advancements have changed the workplace and the labor market.
Four decades ago, more than 70 percent of jobs required a high school diploma or less, but today about 60 percent of jobs require more than a high school diploma, said Jason Amos, vice president of communications for the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit organization in Washington.
“The majority of jobs in today’s knowledge-based economy require a high school diploma at minimum, and in most cases they need some form of education after high school,” he said.
Jobs that do not require a high school diploma are disappearing, and the jobs that remain do not pay enough for workers to support themselves or a family, Amos said.
In Ohio, high school graduates on average make about $7,500 more annually than high school dropouts, Amos said. College graduates on average earn $27,000 more annually than dropouts.
“For the individual, (dropping out) can be a $1 million mistake,” he said. “That is the difference in lifetime earnings for a college graduate versus a high school dropout.”
High school dropouts often must work multiple jobs. Many receive government support including food stamps and Medicaid. Some run into trouble with the law. In Ohio, about eight in 10 people entering the Ohio prison system do not have a high school diploma or a GED, according to the state.
Early intervention is crucial to combat the dropout issue, experts said.
Students who are not succeeding in traditional school environments may benefit from switching to an alternative or technical school that can offer more flexible schedules and allow students to learn at their own pace, said Carter, who used to be the director of Sinclair’s Fast Forward Center.
The Fast Forward Center serves students ages 16 to 21 who have dropped out of high school or are not attending school regularly.
Since 2002, the center has helped 2,800 high school dropouts earn high school diplomas, Carter said.
“It may take a lot of hard work, but with the economy and circumstances today, it is pretty much mandatory that people need to get a high school diploma or GED,” he said.
Albert Rankin attended Dunbar High School but said he was distracted and had a hard time focusing on schoolwork. He started skipping class frequently.
But then Rankin participated in the Fast Forward program, and he enrolled in Mound Street Academies, a charter school in Dayton. He earned his diploma in 2009.
Rankin said the charter school allowed him to work at his own pace and educators helped him learn subjects he struggled to comprehend, such as science and social studies.
“They pinpoint what you actually need,” said Rankin, 23. “They pinpoint, ‘Hey, you are failing in this area, so let’s work on that,’ instead of being (lost) in a classroom full of 30 people.”
Rankin works at a bookstore and attended Sinclair. He said he wants to transfer to a four-year college to get a degree in mechanical engineering.
“I really liked going to school, but (Mound Street) was more relaxed,” he said. “You could just do your work and you weren’t distracted as much.”
We reviewed U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for this story. We are committed to writing about issues that affect jobs and the economy.