If, as we have said, the students of a professional school or college belong to the upper income groups, the question naturally arises, What is the relation between public education and income ? One of the reasons usually given for expending large sums of money on public education is that it helps to equalize industrial opportunity - that is, public education tends to start all alike in the industrial race. Just how far is this reasoning valid ? It is a well-known fact that an educated person, other things being equal, is more efficient than one uneducated; also that increased efficiency leads to higher incomes. It is equally well known that education beyond the grades, certainly beyond the high school, requires an outlay of money which only a relatively few families can afford to make; and these families, let us not forget, already belong to the higher income groups. Hence, education is not only a cause, but also a result of relatively high incomes.
If we should question the existence of this close mutual relationship, we have but to turn for corroborative evidence to the income schedules which appear in the preceding chapter. There we find a large majority of families getting less than a thousand dollars a year each, while millions of them are compelled to subsist on half the amount. Families with such incomes find it increasingly difficult to keep the children in school as they advance from one grade to another. By the time they reach high school age but few of them remain. One after another of those who enter high school withdraw to go into industry, so that by the time the senior year is reached the number left is greatly reduced. The next educational step they find the most difficult of all. So difficult is it that few have the courage to undertake it, for "going" to college or a technical school for a long period of years is not to be faced lightly even by those who have financial backing. Under such conditions it is not difficult to understand why the higher income groups have a virtual monopoly of higher education; and why, as a result, education depends on income quite as much as income depends on education.
Our notion of the ease with which individuals are able to pass from lower to higher income groups is often based on a misunderstanding of the nature of these groups. We point to the fact that a certain successful business man began life as a newsboy, which may or may not be significant in this connection; for not all newsboys by any means belong to the ranks of unskilled labor or even of skilled labor. So it is with boys that sweep out offices, run errands, clerk in stores on Saturdays, or spend their summers on the farm. It is repeatedly pointed out that the farm and the small town serve as excellent sources from which successful city business men are recruited. There is no denying that this has been the case; yet, true as the statement is, it should not carry the implication that these boys were drawn from the lowest income groups. It would be nearer correct to say that a majority of them, despite their success, never leave the group in which they were born; for, from the standpoint of education, there is practically no difference between a family income of two or three thousand dollars a year and one a hundred times as great.
Per Cent Attending School in the Total Population and in Certain Classes 6 to 20 Years of Age: 1909-1910.