February 16, 2021

The high cost of missed school

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The pandemic’s disruption of in-person school is causing headaches for students, parents and teachers. But it’ll also trigger long-term economic consequences to the tune of trillions of dollars. The U.S. economy could take a $14 trillion to $28 trillion blow in the long run due to coronavirus-induced learning loss, according to economists’ projections. And the longer the pandemic keeps kids out of classrooms, the higher that number will climb.

On average, American students from kindergarten to fifth grade have missed out on 20% of the reading and 33% of the math skills they would have learned in normal times, according to a McKinsey report that analyzed diagnostic test scores across the country.

“Nobody’s paying attention to this absolutely stunningly large economic cost that just keeps piling up,” says Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist and one of the architects of an OECD analysis of the economic impact of COVID-19 learning loss. “The main thing that drives both individual earnings and the economy is the skills of the people. So you can crank through from lower test scores to lower individual earnings to lower economic growth in the future,” Hanushek says. “We’re going to have a less skilled population than we would have had if we had no pandemic.”

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