Justin Peligri: Looking at progress beyond Black Friday sales

Unlike many of you, I won’t be waiting in lines outside my local mall at 4 a.m. Friday morning. In the middle of the night on Black Friday, I’ll be sleeping – deep in a food coma induced by my uncle’s mashed potatoes and my grandmother’s stuffing.

But regardless of whether or not you’re getting up early the day after Thanksgiving, you’ll surely see the news reports. Corporations will rake in millions at their annual Black Friday sales. Television hosts will paint broad strokes about how the economy has improved and consumer confidence is high. They’ll point to the Dow Jones Industrial Average – which closed above 16,000 for the first time in its 177 year history last week – as clear evidence.

It makes sense that Black Friday shopping is all the rage. And it’s understandable that the media would seek out any morsel of economic strength: After all, we live in a world that often measures progress in dollars spent.

But amid all this talk about economic robustness and record-breaking spending, those who paint a rosy picture of post-recession America are looking at the wrong metrics.

Yes, over the last year, the unemployment rate has decreased ever so slightly from 7.9 percent to 7.3 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And there is no denying that Wall Street’s numbers have been eye-popping.

But as college tuition rates rise to new heights each year, a study from National Student Clearinghouse reports that about 30 percent of high school students drop out before graduation day. And number of students graduating from college is just inching along.

If we want to make an honest judgment at American progress, we’re failing to look at the whole picture when we ignore numbers related to education. If we genuinely care about moving forward, we’ll make more noise about areas like degree-attainment and dropout rates. Not to mention exorbitant tuition hikes annually, which create two classes of people: one that can afford four years after high school, and one that can’t.

Maybe the numbers show progress across the U.S., but not everywhere. Not in higher education.

In an era that is supposedly marked by rapid expansion, growth and progress, the number of Americans seeking a degree in higher education increased by one-fifth of 1 percent over the past 12 months, according to a newly released study by the National Student Clearinghouse. The growth here is practically nonexistent.

Now, there’s been a lot of talk in D.C. and across the country about whether college degrees are even worth it anymore.

Some of this questioning is valid: For the tuition students pay each year – and the amount of money they borrow – it’s reasonable to feel frustrated with the current system.

But, again, let’s stick to the numbers: The unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree and higher was nearly 4 percentage points lower than the national average last month.

There’s no denying that college degrees by and large have big benefits effects for those who obtain them. Those who don’t have to look harder to find a job.

The rhetoric here seems to ignore reality. If we’re not talking about ways to create more students who walk away with degrees, we’re turning our back on the problem.

I, just like nearly everyone else, am concerned with having the flashiest stuff. I won’t be braving the cold this Friday, but I’ve had a fair amount of unwarranted shopping sprees of my own this holiday season.

But when we read the optimistic headlines, let’s keep in mind that there’s more to the picture of American progress than how much cash the CEOs of Walmart and Apple walk away with between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The writer, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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