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Why Education Is Not The Civil Rights Issue Of The Twenty-First Century

Economic disparity
Economic disparity
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Today, education is the most significant factor in determining income potential and upward mobility; however, an education does not safeguard individuals against the consequences of growing economic disparity. The reason political and civil rights leaders consider education to be the civil rights issue of the Twenty-first Century is that access to education is being threatened due to exploding costs at our academic institutions while there is comparatively less support from government due to budget constraints and political ideology.

Furthermore, the liberals of today, like their conservative counterparts, have grown intellectually lazy. Meanwhile, education offers activists some straightforward, popular solutions, increased taxpayer subsidies for example, so education is a clear choice for national leaders to market as the civil rights issue of the day. Unfortunately, it is only a piece of a growing social issue that demands a far more involved, ongoing endeavor. The civil liberty issue of the Twenty-first Century is, in fact, creating and ensuring greater access to viable financial opportunities for all.

Although education is an engine for personal grow and social transformation, extreme economic disparity seriously undercuts the benefits of an education as a lack of economic leverage disenfranchises individuals. In the Twentieth Century, the Civil Rights Movement focused heavily on racial and gender disparity. Although a tedious process rot with blockades and missteps, straightforward solutions eventually presented themselves, including meaningful, appropriate legislative actions. Consequently, the Civil Rights Movement largely succeeded, thus producing an ideological shift that no longer made it acceptable to value someone based solely on an innate characteristic or a single aspect of that person's character.

Unfortunately, the movement failed to address the broader injustice of inherited poverty that cuts across racial, gender, and cultural bigotry. The consequence of this failure has been the continued shadow of discrimination in terms of the socioeconomic disparity experienced by generations of poor minorities and women. Sharing their struggle, there has long been a diverse segment of the population largely neglected by the economy while the ranks of the poor only continue to grow as well-paying jobs disappear and the broad consumer base, which brought about economic prosperity in countries like the US, dries up in an alarming number of communities.

On the other hand, those firmly situated in Middle Class and wealthy families will be better able to compete for what fewer, more lucrative financial opportunities are expected to arise while those who cannot compete will be consigned to be the working poor. Inequality among Middle Class and wealthy minorities will disappear overtime, yet inequality will only continue to grow among the economically disenfranchised. Poverty cannot, therefore, be addressed by simply spurring additional macroscopic economic growth and supporting education. Disparity means most of the gains will go to those least in need. Consequently, the economy needs structural changes that afford the majority of individuals greater leverage over the economy.

Meanwhile, success in our economy hinges on an individual's ability to function in line with employer and consumer expectations. As such, individuals seeking financial gains must have the resources to respond to the rapidly changing demands of the economy. Obviously, this is a serious roadblock that exists for the poor while government cannot hope to subsidize everything the poor need to succeed. In fact, doing so would only inflate those needs.

If one considers education, not all educational experiences are equal in economic value, but an growing number of associate and bachelor degree holders lessens the overall value of completing college, thus creating a glut in the job market for educated employees and degree inflation. Because those with more affluent backgrounds can better afford to pursue higher levels of education and stay out of the economy longer, they will undercut the educated poor, even when a formal, higher level education is not needed for a job. In other words, the children of the poor will continue to be "legitimately" poor, because they cannot compete for jobs against their more affluent counterparts. Moreover, civil rights leaders need to focus their efforts on economically empowering all individuals and ensuring greater access to financial opportunities.