Teachers to Blame for Growing Wage Gaps?

Jared Bernstein and Larry Mishel at the Economic Policy Institute have published a concise and important response to President Bush and others who argue that growing income gaps are attributable to “an economy that increasingly rewards education and skills.”

If only teachers would do their jobs, this argument implies, kids could anticipate earning much more than their teachers, in work in which their skills were justly rewarded.

Bernstein and Mishel’s analysis shows, instead, that inflation-adjusted earnings of college graduates rose very modestly between 2000 and 2006, and that college graduates are less likely to be employed now than they were in 2000.

Bernstein and Mishel point to other factors creating the growing income gaps between high school and college educated workers: the steep decline in the real value of the minimum wage, the loss of high-quality jobs in manufacturing, the decline in union representation, the depression of wages in slack labor markets.

Blaming teachers for the wage volatility of the new global economy seems to work pretty well: while we’re myopically focused on test scores, we’re paying precious little attention to how even those who have aced their exams are struggling to find their footing in these new economic times.

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