Years of data combined with countless real life stories demonstrate that improving education and work skills will improve wages and ultimately reduce the number of those needing food stamps. But we must change how we look at academics by recognizing college isn’t for everyone and reverse the long held reputation of vocational classes as the unwanted stepchildren of education. I was surprised to learn that the Department of Education has found that more than 90 percent of students who concentrate in career-oriented courses in high school graduate within four to five years, compared to 75 percent of those with a broader academic syllabus.
Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce also found that 27 percent of Americans who earn a vocational license or certificate after high school actually earn more than the average for those with a bachelor’s degree. This matters because the unemployment rate for those without a high school diploma hovered around 8 percent in 1998 and nearly doubled by 2004, to 16 percent with average incomes declining at relatively the same pace.
It’s time to replace campaign-styled rhetoric from progressives and conservatives alike with thoughtful leadership like that of Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow who recognizes food stamps as “disaster aid for families” and the committee’s ranking member Thad Cochran who makes no apologies for supporting the SNAP program.
The purpose of food stamps remains as true today as when the program started, acting as an economic band-aid to help the injury of a lost job or other traumatic financial life event. So it is critical SNAP remains fully operational while Washington looks to heal the greater problem through sensible educational opportunities that help improve skills in the growing number of employed Americans.
Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty will never be won, but just because someone is poor, does not mean they should ever go hungry. Or as McGovern would say, “A country that is powerful enough to rocket men to the moon should be able to feed its own hungry people.”
Gerald S.J. Cassidy is founder and chief executive officer of Cassidy & Associates in Washington, D.C.