Downward Mobility

From NPR’s Day to Day show comes this story on a study released today indicating that sonsĀ  today are faring less well economically than their fathers. Specifically:

on average, 30-something males make about 12 percent less than they would have 30 years ago.

Additional commentary is provided by a high school social studies teacher, the son of a mortgage banker.

Perhaps, rather than “No Child Left Behind” [NCLB], we should be have “Ok, So Many Of You Are Going To Be Left Behind your Parents’ Generation. Now, How Far Will Your Slide Be?” [OSMOYAGTBLBYPGNHFWYSB]

Even Margaret Spellings would have trouble spinning that one on Jon Stewart.

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.

Testing Ourselves into Equality?

ETS has issued a report, dramatically entitled America’s Perfect Storm , in which they argue that the convergence of

  • substantial disparities in skill levels (reading and math)
  • seismic economic changes (widening wage gaps)
  • sweeping demographic shifts (less education, lower skills)

means that decent jobs and livable wages will disappear unless we “act now”.

Within the report, we read that “college labor market clusters” will account for 46% of the job growth in the next 7 years.

We read also of “increasing economic returns” for people with education and skills, evidenced by the widening gap between wages earned by high school and college educated workers.

I find it interesting that a data-driven organization like ETS has played this loose with labor market data.

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we find that in terms of actual number of jobs being created, only five of the 30 fast growing jobs require college degrees. ETS is apparently using data on “‘fastest growing occupations“.

Yet if I’m a working-class 17 year old weighing the decision to go deeply in debt to go to college, I don’t care if there is 54.6% growth in jobs in data communication analysis, a relatively small occupational sector, when there are five times more actual, real jobs being created in retail sales.

As for the “rising economic returns” for college degrees, it’s quite easy to find data confirming that the gap between wages in high school level and college level jobs is attributable in part to sharp declines in the earning power of high school graduates, not “increasing economic returns” for college degrees.

The report does not address the rising costs of attending college, the declining state support for higher education, the wage gaps created by significant raises in corporate salaries, the outsourcing of family wage jobs.

Instead, they blame the “perfect storm” on poor kids who stubbornly refuse to learn enough to position themselves for those hot new high-tech jobs and on new immigrants.

The authors of the report do concede — in a paragraph at the end of the report — that the educational system alone can’t be blamed for the impending storm, that such things as the health care system, fiscal and monetary policies, and the regulatory environment matter too, but “in the end” it come down to education.

The report makes no specific policy recommendations. I’ll be watching for ETS’s next report, in which they will perhaps explain how their testing services will be part of stemming the storm.