"I see lots of dropouts," said L.A. resident Brian George. "I still encourage them to go back to school, because we all need it right now, especially in these times in the economy."
"People ask for high school diplomas," said jobseeker Taisa Hernandez. "If you don't have one, it's like, you might as well be working at a fast-food restaurant."
A report by the Center for Labor Market Studies shows a 22 percent incarceration rate for young black men who drop out of high school.
And that's not all. Menial jobs produce lower incomes. That hurts the economy in two ways. First, it means more people dependent on social services. Second, there is less income to tax and fewer dollars to fund government programs.
"One of the biggest causes of poverty is the lack of education," said Mayor Villaraigosa.
Villaraigosa announced Thursday grant recipients for $4.3 million of federal stimulus money. It will help train young people who are out of school and out of work.
A key point of the study is how much the job market has changed. It used to be a dropout could get on-the-job training. But today's dropouts can barely read and write.
"They can't even fill out beyond their name and their address," said Villaraigosa.
The report details your potential paycheck. With a bachelor's degree, lifetime earnings average $2.43 million. With a high school diploma, less than half that, at $1.2 million. Dropouts: $697,000, and decades of misery.
"People with a bachelor's degree have expected lifetime earnings out here of $2.4 million, so I can tell you, it's well above the national average," said Paul Harrington, author of the study. "If you've got a college degree in this city, you can do really, really well."
It's all about building a smarter workforce. City leaders seek support from business and education to remove barriers and open opportunities.