Thirty years ago, someone without a high-school diploma could expect to find a job that would pay enough to at least avoid poverty. Now, that's almost impossible.
Of the manufacturing jobs still left in this country, most pay about 30 percent less than in 1979. That has an impact on the economy, says Northeastern University economist Andrew Sum.
"It's been a gradual thing over the last 28 years, now that the standard of living of these men without diplomas has gotten worse," Sum says, "but since it doesn't happen like one great shock and show in the data in one year, it's kind of like slow rot. We ignore it because it happens gradually, but the cumulative effects are extraordinarily high."
Those effects are especially evident in prisons. A high-school dropout is eight times more likely than a high-school graduate to end up behind bars. Sum says the average cost of keeping a male high-school dropout in prison is more than $80,000 a year.
In the second report in WBUR's series, Project Dropout, WBUR's Deborah Becker talks with people about not having a high-school diploma — including some who say their lack of an education helped put them behind bars.
This program aired on February 16, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.