In 1968, just 54 percent of young black adults had a high school diploma. Today, 92 percent do. In 1968, about 9 percent of young African-American adults had completed college. Today, roughly 23 percent have.
However, their incomes have not gone up by as much as this might predict:
The median income for a white head of household with a college degree is $106,600. The median income for a comparable black college graduate is only $82,300.
It turns out that increasing educational opportunities does not by itself reduce income disparities.
I think this is one of the most important discoveries of the past 30 years: that investing in education has little effect on inequality, and that while educated people still make more money than others, we have entered the realm of diminishing returns in terms of education's economic payoff. There are only so many good slots in the system, and creating more college graduates than there are good slots just leads to credentials creep and falling wages.
I think this is highly relevant to the current political climate. If the stagnating incomes of working class people are driving protests worldwide, as I think they are, then it could be that the failure of African American incomes to rise might be one of the reasons for the restlessness and anger we are seeing all around us. The system tells you that all you have to do is get education or training and get a job and work hard and you will be ok – which to us means security and a middle class lifestyle – and many people clearly feel that they have been lied to, that billionaires keep rising while they keep being kicked down. I do think police violence is a big problem in America, but I also think that rising incomes and a sense of a shared national fate are great tonics for reducing violence of all sorts.
In this sense I absolutely agree with angry people on the left that the system isn't working as it should.
But while I think are some things we could do to make life better for working people, black and white (remember that American police shoot more white people than black people, almost all of them from the working class), I do not think we have even a faint notion of what sort of system would solve these problems and get us back on the path to a middle class life for everyone rather than Gilded Age extremes.
If you listen to what people are saying in Seattle's "autonomous zone" about how they are going to live without capitalism, it's laughable.
I think some cities ought to abolish the police forces they have and start over, as Camden did, but I think it's just silly to believe that a modern society can survive without a police force.
The system we have is violent, heartless and unfair, but the ideas for radical change I have seen are pathetic. I just don't see any viable path but to keep struggling along within the system we have to make life better one small measure at a time.