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PORTSIDELABOR  March 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDELABOR March 2012, Week 3

Subject:

Education, Jobs, and Wages

From:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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Date:

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 21:36:35 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (207 lines)

Education, Jobs, and Wages
By Jack METZGAR
TalkACK union
March 20, 2012
http://talkingunion.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/education-jobs-and-wages/#more-14396

Most people are surprised when I tell them that only
about 30% of Americans over the age of 25 have
bachelor's degrees.

This is especially true of professional middle-class
folks who went to high schools where almost everybody
went to college immediately after graduation and whose
friends now are almost all college graduates.

But it's also true of people from working-class and poor
backgrounds, who seem to think they are "abnormal" or
"below average" because they haven't graduated from
college.  They're not.  They are, in fact, the ones who
are "typical."

Most people are surprised when I tell them
that only about 30% of Americans over the age of 25
have bachelor's degrees.  This is especially true of
professional middle-class folks who went to high
schools where almost everybody went to college
immediately after graduation and whose friends now are
almost all college graduates.

But it's also true of people from working-class and
poor backgrounds, who seem to think they are "abnormal"
or "below average" because they haven't graduated from
college.  They're not.  They are, in fact, the ones who
are "typical."

It's even more surprising, however, when the Bureau of
Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2010 only 20% of
jobs required a bachelor's degree, whereas 26% of jobs
did not even require a high school diploma, and another
43% required only a high school diploma or equivalent.

And according to the BLS, this isn't going to change
much by 2020, since the overwhelming majority of jobs
by then will still require only a high school diploma
or less.  What's more, nearly 3/4ths of "job openings
due to growth and replacement needs" over the next 10
years will pay a median wage of less than $35,000 a
year, with nearly 30% paying a median of about $20,000
a year (in 2010 dollars). Put these two sets of numbers
together, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that
Americans are over educated for the jobs that we have
and are going to have.  It's hard to imagine why
anybody would call us "a knowledge economy."

It's also hard to see how "in the 21st century, the best
anti-poverty program around is a first-class
education," as President Obama famously said in his
2010 State of the Union Address.

I don't want to say that these statistics on education
and jobs expose widely held "myths," because that word
suggests things that are utterly and completely false.

It's much more complicated than that.  Rather, I'd say
that broadly speaking, about one-third of Americans live
in one world, while another two-thirds live in a rather
different one, but that public discourse - in the
mainstream media, for sure, but even more so in elite
media and the academy - is conducted by the one-third
who are college-educated and have jobs with a fair
amount of autonomy and/or a decent income.

This one-third mistakenly takes our world to be 
typical - or said another way, the educated middle
class tends to mistake our part of America for the whole.
And the larger working-class and poor part does not
have enough power or voice to consistently make their
presence known to us.  That means we are subject to certain
uncorrected illusions - mistaking half-truths and
quarter-truths for the whole truth -- even though we're
the ones who collect and analyze the data.

There is, for example, a large and growing "knowledge
economy" in the U.S., requiring more than 6 million
people with master's or doctoral degrees now, with
another 1.3 million needed by 2020.  But even with this
faster-than-average growth rate, it will be less than
5% of the overall economy.

Even if we expand the definition to include jobs
requiring any education beyond high school, the
"knowledge economy" - now and a decade from now -will
still represent less than one-third of all available jobs.
This is a lot of jobs, about 44 million now, and if you
work and live in this one-third, especially in its
upper reaches, more education can seem like the answer
to everything.

Indeed, according to the BLS, having a bachelor's
degree should yield a person nearly $30,000 a year more
in wages than a high school graduate. But most of the
American economy is not like this.

The BLS's three
largest occupational categories by themselves accounted
for more than one-third of the workforce in 2010 (49
million jobs), and they will make an outsized
contribution to the new jobs projected for 2020.

They are:
--Office and administrative support occupations
(median wage of $30,710)
--Sales and related occupations ($24,370)
--Food preparation and serving occupations
($18,770)
Other occupations projected to provide the
largest number of new jobs in the next decade include
child care workers ($19,300), personal care aides
($19,640), home health aides ($20,560), janitors and
cleaners ($22,210), teacher assistants ($23,220),
non-construction laborers ($23,460), security guards
($23,920), and construction laborers ($29,280).

There are still construction, mining, production, and
transportation and material-moving jobs that provide
annual incomes north of $40,000 (especially if they are
union).  But even though all these occupations are
projected to grow, some by above-average rates, in 2020
there will be fewer of them than there were in 2006
before the Great Recession, nearly 6 million fewer
according to the BLS.

The BLS produces its
job-projection report every two years, and as I pointed
out two years ago, it is consistently misreported in
the mainstream media or (as this year) ignored all
together.  This is partly because the just-the-facts
BLS reporting style does not highlight the continuing
growth of the low-wage economy.

But read it carefully - or just look at all the tables
with an open mind - and I don't think you can avoid two
general conclusions: As an individual, get a bachelor's
degree
or you are doomed to work hard for a wage that will not
provide a decent standard of living for a family.  You
may not get such a wage even with a bachelor's degree,
but without it your chances are slim and getting
slimmer.

But as a society, "the best anti-poverty program around"
cannot possibly be "a first-class education" when more
than 2/3rds of our jobs require nothing like that.

The best anti-poverty program around is higher wages
for the jobs we actually have and will have. If we were
serious about eliminating poverty or restoring the
credibility of the American Dream or simply respecting
lifetimes of hard work, we would be debating how to raise
wages directly - how to make it easier for workers to
organize themselves into unions, how to get the federal
minimum wage higher and on a steady inflation-adjusted
escalator, whether to require some kind of workers
council for all employers, and then legally require
that the benefits of productivity growth be shared
with workers.

We'd also be discussing how to use a more steeply
progressive system of taxation to build a social wage
that makes the basics of life - food, housing, mass
transit, child care, education, and health care - cheaper
for everyone, but most crucially for lower wage workers.
Those of us who have benefitted, financially and
otherwise, from getting good educations should tell our
stories and try to inspire others with the value of
education in all its forms.

But we need to stop fostering illusions that good
educations can ever substitute for the organized
collective action - in politics, in the workplace,
and in the streets - that will be required to reverse
the increasingly miserable the future.

Jack Metzgar is Emeritus Professor of Humanities at
Roosevelt University in Chicago.

This post originally appeared on Working Class Perspectives,
the blog of the Center for Working Class Studies.

____________________________________________

PortsideLabor aims to provide material of interest to
people on the left that will help them to interpret the
world and to change it.

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