Learning Your Way Into the Middle Class?

Lane Kentworthy, over at Consider the Evidence, has been doing a series of posts here, here, here, and here on economic mobility and income inequality in the U.S.  The news is not good.  In his latest post in the series, he writes:

The median income of [sample] families  increased by about $12,000 between 1964 and 1994. Between 1974 and 2004, in contrast, it increased by only $4,500. The gain from generation to generation declined. And this is despite the fact that a growing share of these families have two earners rather than just one.

Public rhetoric would suggest that this is, in essence, an educational problem: That we’re not adequately preparing kids for high paying jobs so that employers then reluctantly move those jobs elsewhere.

Yet the data that he cites suggests that declining mobility may be attributable not simply to a slowing economy (as is assumed in much educational policy making), but instead to growing income inequality.

As he notes, the “American ethos” is enveloped in a deep belief in the chance to move up — in large measure, through doing well in school.

It seems unfortunately clear, however, that poor and working class kids cannot simply learn their way into the middle class in these troubled economic times .

4 thoughts on “Learning Your Way Into the Middle Class?

  1. janevangalen August 7, 2008 / 12:27 pm

    Great article, Jeanne. Thanks for linking to it. The people who attend Harvard or Yale probably aren’t representative of the “upwardly mobile” – they’re more likely to already be at the top from the starting gate, so one implication of this article might be that this is part of what the data on the Consider the Evidence blog indicates …that those at the top are moving further away from those at lower levels of the economy, even with similar levels of education.

  2. Jeanne August 7, 2008 / 2:56 pm

    Right. I said to the person who sent the article to me that the study needs to ask deeper questions. Are the income outcomes (ha ha) the same for both private and public school kids? What about the same for kids who get loans and the kids whose trust funds paid for their rock-and-roll life at college? And how about for the kids whose parents went to the same school vs. a first generation college student?

    These questions would reveal the real truth behind the increasing gap between the wealthy and everyone else.

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