Help Millions of Children; Save Trillions of Dollars

As an economist, serial CFO, holder of 8 patents, graduate of Princeton and MIT, and uncle, brother, and friend of experienced mentors, I have recently been studying the profound effects of mentoring programs. Programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters are very successful, but last year that program only worked with 170,000 children. Since there are almost 46 million children ages 8–18 in our country, that is but a tiny drop in the bucket. I would like to suggest a way to get 50–100 times as many mentors, but first consider the economic implications.

Children who drop out of high school are 4 times more likely to end up on welfare than those who complete at least 1 year of college. They represent about 60% of our prison population (which overall is about 10 times higher proportionately than the average country in Europe). Their average salary is about half of that earned by high school graduates and about 20% of that earned by college graduates. Society’s lifetime costs of crime, prison, drug use, food stamps, and welfare for a troubled child can be as much as $1–2 million!

What can mentoring do to improve this? The study conducted by Big Brothers Big Sisters after only 18 months of mentoring showed a 33% reduction in the odds of hitting someone, a 37% reduction in the odds of skipping class, a 53% reduction in skipping school, a 27% reduction in the odds of beginning use of alcohol, a 46% lower use of drugs, and an 89% improvement in their ability to avoid risky behavior. Overall the mentees had a 95% improvement in education success and were 55% more likely to attend college.

So how do we get this going on a massive scale? Unfortunately, too few of us are willing to spend an hour a week with a mentee just out of the goodness of our hearts. Moreover, even current mentors tend to limit their relationships to only a couple of years or until mentees finish high school. My proposal is to establish a Federal program which provide an economic incentive for mentors based on the success of their mentees. That could be fraction of the mentees’ future income tax payments or some milestone awards based on the child graduating from high school, or attending college, or avoiding welfare or prison or drug use or any number of other metrics. These incentives would create a lifelong bond between the mentor and mentee and ensure that the mentor and perhaps even the mentor’s friends and family would be motivated to find ways to help the mentee. That could be advice, or social interaction, or job references, or even job offers. The amount of the incentive would no doubt need to vary greatly depending on the perceived prospects of each child.

Given the alternative of having a child fail and cost society $1–2 million over 40–60 years, there would be a huge economic and social upside for each child who is “saved” by a mentor and actually starts paying income tax each year instead of being an economic drain. Even if we saved just a million children and a million dollars for each of them, that totals a trillion dollars! Of course, the savings are spread over many years, but there are many more than a million children who need to be saved. We can help huge numbers of children, provide useful work and compensation for millions of mentors, and save trillions of dollars. Along the way, we would also be reducing the high school dropout rate, gang activity, drug use, crime, the prison population, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, welfare and food stamp payments, and the national debt. What could be better than that?


David is a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University and received his master’s degree from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He has dozens of inventions.

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David Alan Dill

David is a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University and received his master’s degree from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He has dozens of inventions.