Academics skeptical of Obama's message on higher education
By Salena Zito
Published: Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 11:49 p.m.
SCRANTON — In a corner of the state with the highest sustained jobless rate of his administration, President Obama on Friday intends to speak to young people about the importance of getting a college degree during what experts call a stagnant economic recovery.
His speech at the private, two-year Lackawanna College is the last stop of a two-day bus tour that began at the University at Buffalo and stopped at State University of New York and Henninger High School in Syracuse. He said his administration will address a “crisis” of college affordability with proposals to help middle-class families.
In Buffalo, Obama announced he would have the Department of Education develop a “college scorecard” by 2014 to rate schools based on the value students get for tuition, taking into account the percentage of students receiving Pell grants, average student debt incurred by graduates, graduation rates and average tuition.
“Higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America, and if we don't do something about keeping it within reach, it will create problems for generations to come,” Obama said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus criticized the bus tour before it began, telling reporters, “The Obama presidency and Democratic policies have made life harder for young Americans.”
The president's visit comes as his popularity slumps. Despite Obama's renewed focus on the economy since mid-July, he scores worse with voters on that topic than he did in June, according to a mid-August Gallup survey. His 35 percent approval rating on the issue fell 7 percentage points, and his ratings on taxes and the federal budget deficit each fell 5 points.
Almost six years since the start of the Great Recession, “the unemployment rate remains well above the postwar norms,” said Allan Meltzer, a Carnegie Mellon University economics professor. “Much of the decline in the unemployment rate, from a peak above 10 percent to the low 7 percent range, is the result of workers leaving the labor force.”
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area holds the distinction of having Pennsylvania's highest jobless rate — 9.2 percent for 39 consecutive months, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.
Five months of decreasing unemployment in the area happened in small increments, such as a one-tenth of a percentage point drop in June.
“Scranton has become the face of the slow economic recovery during the Obama years,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. “Unemployment in the area remains stubbornly high and economic growth fairly limited.”
Many jobs recently created are part-time, low-wage positions, Meltzer said.
“Although the president talks about aiding the middle class, the spread in the income distribution is greater than when he took office, and the poverty rate has increased to a record high,” Meltzer said.
A record number of Americans — 46.2 million, or 15 percent of the population — are classified as poor, largely from lingering unemployment. The Associated Press reported on a July survey that found four out of five adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare at some point in their lives.
Obama's campus speeches stress to younger people the relationship between higher education and jobs in a changing economy. The White House website links education with “true middle-class security.”
But, Borick said, “post-secondary education needs to be nimble enough that individuals struggling in the new economy can find ... opportunity.”
A recent Pew Research Center analysis of census data shows 36 percent of adults ages 18 to 31 live with their parents — the highest share in four decades.
“Lack of economic independence is the basic reason,” said Richard Fry, senior research associate at Pew, who noted that “all age groups were hard-hit by the recession, but especially the nation's young adults.”
The job market “hasn't been particularly robust,” Fry said. “Whether it is even appropriate to even label it a recovery is a little bit of a judgment call.”
Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Letang has surgery on infected elbow
- Crosby leads Penguins to 7th straight win
- Penguins sign Zatkoff to new 2-year contract
- Firefighters allow abandoned houseboat to go over Allegheny River dam
- Florida fears even bigger python could be moving in
- Gorman: WPIAL recruits send message to Pitt
- Miners’ advocate, widow sue W.Va. agencies over safety systems
- Fake Santa Claus surprises his mother as sneaky soldier returns home early
- Secret Santa Gates delivers to aid charity
- Penguins’ Orpik: Thornton was ‘apologetic’
- Steelers’ cornerback Allen learns valuable lessons