The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Advancing Milton and Rose D. Friedman's Vision of School Choice for All Children

California’s High School Dropouts - Examining the Fiscal Consequences

Released: 9/15/2010

Author(s): David Stuit, Jeffrey A. Springer

This report analyzes the economic and social costs of the high school dropout problem in California from the perspective of a state taxpayer. Our analysis considers the consequences of this problem in terms of labor market, tax revenue, public health, and incarceration costs. Our quantification of these costs reveals the sizeable taxpayer benefits that stand to be gained by aggressively combating the state’s dropout problem. Our analysis reveals the following findings.

Key findings include:

  • According to the California Department of Education, 98,420 public high school students dropped out of school in 2007-08, suggesting 19 percent of California high school students in any ninth-grade class will drop out over a four-year period. Hispanic and African American students drop out at an estimated rate of 24 percent and 33 percent respectively.
  • California dropouts experience difficulty in the labor market. They are more likely to be unemployed or out of the labor force and twice as likely to be living in poverty. Based on data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, we estimate that the average California high school dropout earns $14,226 less per year than we would expect had they graduated high school. Over a lifetime, high school dropouts will earn $412,000 less than a high school graduate (in 2008 dollars).
  • The lower earnings of high school dropouts cost the state more than $54 billion per year in lost taxable personal income. California high school dropouts on average contribute $252 less per year in state taxes than they would have had they graduated from high school. This lost state tax revenue adds up to $958 million annually.
  • Dropouts report worse health than graduates and require more public health resources. Close to 20 percent of California high school dropouts report fair or poor health and close to half receive Medicaid. We estimate the average Medicaid costs to the state per high school dropout are $283 per year, which results in over $1 billion in added expenses for the state’s 3.8 million high school dropouts.
  • Dropouts drive up the state’s incarceration costs. Over a lifetime, a dropout costs the state $8,484 because of higher incarceration rates than higher-educated peers. We estimate the average annual incarceration costs of California’s 3.8 million dropouts would decline by $374 per person had those dropouts graduated from high school, representing potential cost savings of more than $1.4 billion.
  • California’s economy will benefit tremendously by reducing dropouts. We estimate that each prevented dropout will result in a present value lifetime benefit of $28,227.1 By permanently cutting the dropout rate in half, each new graduating class of high school students would yield more than $1.4 billion in direct gross economic benefits to the state. Completely eliminating the dropout problem would save the state $2.8 billion annually, or approximately 14 percent of its present budget deficit.


12/15/2010 Oakdale Leader | Local Dropout Rates Below State Average
9/21/2010 The Turlock Journal | High school dropouts costing state over $2 billion, report finds
9/16/2010 Orange County Register | Study: Dropouts cost state billions
9/15/2010 California Dropouts Contributing to Economic Bust

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