Friday, June 19, 2020

Education, Inequality, and Race

American blacks are much better educated than they were a generation ago:
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.


Shadow said...

John McWhorter just called the June 18 column by Brooks his phoniest in 17 years. I thought that was interesting, but it was a tweet, so there wasn't any reason given as to why. I don't read Brooks. I find him to be mostly irrelevant and of a different era.

JustPeachy said...

I see a potential hitch in those numbers. I want to see a breakdown by age.

We have a white head of household, with a college degree (with honors!), and we're at like, one fifth of that median income, while hubby goes to vocational school to get a real job. And that real job still won't even approach that median, it'll just be enough for us to live on without our family chipping in all the time. Recent years have radically overproduced college grads, while at the same time, not radically increasing the number of jobs that require a college degree. Right now, a bachelor's degree in English qualifies you to be a substitute teacher in a middle school. Good luck finding anything that pays $100k if you didn't go on to get a master's in something that's actually in demand.

I suspect a lot of that "median" number is skewed toward older cohorts, who really *could* get a decent managerial or government job with a college degree. That's not true for anyone under 40. I would like to see those numbers run for just the under-40 set, and I would bet that if you did that, you'd find the race gap smaller, but also the overall median income lower.

Meanwhile, a high school diploma now is not the same as a diploma in 1968, so it's not that surprising that just graduating high school doesn't automatically result in better prospects. It's great that we're graduating more kids. It'd be even better if they were graduating with the same education standards they needed to graduate in '68.