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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Low ranking education system, high unemployment rates earn Tucson sixth-poorest in nation

With a 20.4 percent poverty rate, Tucson is the nation’s sixth-poorest metropolitan region, according to a September census report, a statistic that correlates with the city’s low ranking in education.

A low-ranking education system and high unemployment rates are two main factors causing the high poverty rate, according to Marshall Vest, director of the UA Economic and Business Research Center at the Eller College of Management. Low wages are also a factor in the high poverty rate, Vest added.

“I just think that we have a whole lot of poor people who live here,” Vest said.

Arizona ranks poorly in many aspects of education, including number of high school dropouts, classroom sizes and funding per student. Education, Vest added, is the key to a strong economy. Richard Miranda, Tucson’s city manager, said he agrees that there is a correlation between poverty and education in Tucson.

“I think the investment into education is one that we have to take a hard look at if we’re going to improve the economy,” Miranda said.

Javier Lagarda, a management information systems senior, said that there’s a cycle that needs to be broken in order to improve the economy, starting with improving education. Lagarda said he’s seen a pattern of decrease in funding per student and increase in funding per retired citizen every year.

“We’re horrible in public education,” Lagarda said. “I feel that the government is not funding the right sorts of individuals.”

The small percentage of high school graduates attending college is a disincentive for large corporations who want to hire students right out of college. The lack of corporations in Tucson leads the few students who do receive a higher education to leave the state because there’s nobody to hire them locally, Lagarda said.

“The state doesn’t have a big corporate presence,” Lagarda said. “I feel that the government just doesn’t realize it and they just are looking to get their votes and get their paychecks.”

Mike Varney, president and chief executive officer of Tucson Metro Chamber, said unemployment is the number one concern that needs to be addressed in order to improve Tucson’s economyt. Jobs allow people to support themselves and their families rather than relying on government support, Varney said.

While there are some signs that Tucson is moving in the right direction, Varney said a higher level of cooperation from the city and county government officials is necessary in order to create more jobs.

“We have some political leaders that don’t quite understand the urgency of creating jobs throughout our community and getting our citizens back to work,” Varney said.

Miranda said the city is working on improving its economy and providing incentives for businesses to expand, relocate and open businesses in Tucson. Investment in downtown projects such as the modern streetcar, new housing projects, restaurants, bars and other businesses are helping create jobs for Tucsonans.

But the goal is not just to attract more businesses to Tucson, it’s to attract quality, high-paying industry corporations, according to Lagarda, who predicted that with advances in technology, people who settled for a high school diploma will find it more difficult to find a job after they graduate. Unless the standard of education in Tucson improves, the unemployment rates for degree-requiring jobs will not change, Lagarda added.

Lagarda also said the way a city deals with immigration affects a company’s decision to relocate or start a business there. Illegal immigrant students often cannot continue their education after high school. If Tucson does not take care of all of its population, Lagarda said, Fortune 500 companies won’t want to start a business in Tucson.

Tucson needs a long-term plan its economy over the next 10 to 15 years, Lagarda said, adding that understanding immigration policies and learning how to work with them is vital to the revitalization of the economy.

“You just have to know how to reel it (immigration) in and use it,” he said. “The poverty issue is not going to be something that’s an overnight fix.”

Vest said that Tucson’s public education system needs to prepare people for a quality workforce, giving them the skills that they need. Another necessity to improve Tucson’s poverty is quality jobs, meaning employers who can pay a decent wage, Vest added.

“Keep kids in school and keep them involved and give them the skills that they need,” Vest said. “And I think the jobs will follow.”

The poverty rate in Tucson has been consistently high in previous years, Vest said. Fixing Tucson’s poverty requires years, he added.

“I don’t think anything has changed over the past 10 months,” Vest said.

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