Friday, October 21, 2011

Great catch from Jared Bernstein -- four years of your life for a lousy, stinking 0.1% a year

Bernstein has been doing exceptional work lately. Here he points out a genuinely shocking statistic:
Second point: again, Steve’s not at all alone in advocating for a more highly educated workforce, but he blows by an amazingly sobering statistic:
Achieving higher wages also requires a greater commitment to education; wages for those with college degrees rose 1.4 percent between 2000 and 2010, after inflation.
That’s not 1.4% per year—it’s 1.4% over 10 years! 0.1% per year…OMG—that’s the big freakin’ payoff!!

Now, there’s no question that college grads did better than high school grads, whose real wages fell by 2% over these years (see the data table below). And no question that we’re better off with a more skilled workforce. But a 1.4% median wage gain over 10 years for college grads is not part of the solution…it’s part of the problem.
I'd actually take this further. That 3.4% difference came with four years of lost wages and job advancement and, in many (most?) cases, serious debt. There seems to be a consensus that the country needs educated, tech-literate workers, but if we are serious about this, we need to do something about a system where getting a degree may actually be a losing proposition.

I'd start by scrapping the idea that we should make education accessible through subsidized and (God help us) nondischargeable loans. The current system of easy credit distorts the market in any number of truly ugly ways and takes undue advantage of the vulnerable and inexperienced. If we really want to we can find a better way to make college affordable.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! The slow decline of median wage is a serious concern and one we really need to be focusing on. I disagree with Tyler Cowen's explanation (violently) but at least he is talking about the issue.