School closures could significantly reduce future earnings for students

It is widely agreed that increasing educational attainment often increases a person’s earnings. Additional schooling improves human capital, thereby increasing the chance of a person being employed in a high-paying job. The competition between employers when they seek highly skilled employees also raises the earnings of highly educated people. The opposite can be inferred about people with low levels of education.

This is why it is crucial that decisions on school openings should take into consideration how school closures will affect the future earnings of current students. Missing school has a negative impact on students. When schools are closed, students are more likely to drop out, fail, repeat a grade, or lose on learning. So to the extent that school closures affect educational attainment, and thereby capital accumulation, they are bound to have a significant negative impact on the future earnings of today’s students

This is in fact something that research concurs with. According to some research, using the consensus that 1-year education increases future earnings by 8 to 9%, extending school closures through fall equates to an estimated $30,000 loss per decade in earnings for a typical worker who graduated high school but did not attend college. The longer schools close, the larger the loss will be. This loss in earnings also presents a huge loss of GDP to the economy.

Low-income students will be most heavily affected

For most countries, including the United States, virtual learning has replaced physical schools. This means students will get some return on education. However, it is highly unlikely virtual learning makes up for 100% of in-class learning. Students will, therefore, incur some learning loss that they cannot make up for. And even more unfortunate, low-income students will be the most heavily affected.

This is likely because

virtual learning is closer to no learning for many lower-income households — due, for example, to less reliable internet access, home environments less conducive to studying, and parents whose jobs make it harder for them to stay at home and monitor schooling activity throughout the day. 

There is a lot riding on educational attainment

For current students, there is a lot riding on whether schools open or not. Our leaders should not make that decision willy-nilly.