Monday, November 21, 2011

More four year degrees won't solve the current problem

David Brooks and Thomas Friedman have recently taken to arguing that the solution to our income distribution woes is to encourage and enable more people to go to college.  I want to leave aside for a second the fact that our educational problems are much deeper than that--that our high school graduation rate is declining is to me the most alarming education statistic.

Rather, it is worth looking at what has happened to earnings by educational attainment over the past eight years.  The census has put out data for 2002-2010, and here is what it (Table A-6) shows:

Median earnings for men with a high school degree fell 12.1 percent between 2002-2010; earnings for women with a high school diploma fell 8.5 percent between 2002-2010; for men with college degrees, it was a fall of 8.0 percent; for women with college degrees it was flat.  So yes, education is increasing income inequality in that those with college degrees are losing less than those with high school diplomas.

I am the sort of person who would be fine with a GINI of .5 (a number the reflects lots of inequality) if it meant that the people who are materially worst off can live at a decent standard of living.  But currently, those who play by the rules (and I mean really play by the rules) are seeing their living standards erode.  Homilies about sending more people to college are at the moment pretty much beside the point.