Remote learning will cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars and will hamper gross domestic product growth, according to an economic forecast.
Citing studies that found that online school hinders learning and will lead to lower future earnings in the workforce, researchers at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania recently showed that 2020 school closures will reduce GDP by 3.6 percent in 2050.
GDP surpassed $22 trillion in the first quarter of 2021, according to a government estimate. If GDP had remained steady at $22 trillion without school closures every year until 2050, online learning would have resulted in $10.2 trillion in economic losses.
Productivity losses caused by remote learning will also result in a 3.5 percent decrease in hourly wages, according to the Wharton analysis.
“Current cohorts of students with reduced education and lower productivity will be a drag on the future GDP of the United States for decades in the future,” the analysis said.
“Government tax revenues decline and, consequently, government debt cumulates more quickly,” the report continued. “Higher debt along with less total savings by individuals with lower incomes leads to a lower real capital stock, lowering wages and GDP further.”
The economy will steadily decline as a result of remote learning through the 2030s and 2040s but will sink most in 2050 when children currently in elementary and secondary schools will be in the midst of their careers, according to the analysis.
Poor students will be more hurt in the long run by school closures than affluent students, who had higher access to in-person learning, researchers found.
Poor elementary school students would be 15.2 percent wealthier in 2050 if there had been no school closures in 2020, according to the study.
The researchers also studied policy proposals to mitigate the harmful economic effects of school closures. Summer schooling in 2022 and 2023 would cost the government the most in the short term but benefit the economy the most in the long run, researchers said.
Throughout the pandemic, powerful teachers unions, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, opposed efforts to reopen schools. The NEA and AFT also pushed for the Department of Education to cancel standardized testing.
About 29 percent of U.S. students continue to attend “hybrid” schools that utilize both virtual and in-person learning, while more than 2 percent attend solely virtual classes, according to Burbio.
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