Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Unemployment, Class, Education and Generational Changes

Bonddad at posted this fantastic analysis of unemployment trends. He points to a few interesting and related points. First, points out that about three fourths of all the jobs lost during this recession have been in manufacturing and construction. Second, he points out that the manufacturing sector did not replace many of the jobs it lost in the last recession and should not be expected to replace them after this one. Finally, he points out that the unemployment rate among people with less than a high school diploma is at about 15%! For people with a high school diploma but no college it is at about 10%. For people with "some college" (community college grads), it is at 8.5%. For people with college degrees (or higher), 4.9%.

The first number is for January 2009 and the second is for January 2010:
Less the high school diploma: 12.4%/15.2%
High School Graduates, no college: 8.1%/10.1%
Some college or associate degree: 6.4%/8.5%
Bachelor's degree or higher: 3.9%/4.9%

The differences between demographic groups are extremely stark and clearly the biggest improvement is between those with college degrees and those without. Bonddad says, "Either the economy needs to start creating jobs for those with less than a college education (a highly unlikely development as will be explained below) or the workforce needs to increase the number of people with higher education." I think it's clear that a two year degree from junior college is analogous to the old high school diploma and a college degree is a minimum condition for entry to the "middle class."

So how does "the economy" go about doing that? In the short and medium term, the way to do this is to maintain or increase support for public education - especially colleges and community colleges. Unfortunately, most state are prevented from deficit spending by balanced budget laws passed in the 1990s. This combines with populist anger at "elites" to make public education an easy target for mandated budget cuts as tax revenues decrease.

In the long run, we as a country need to drive home the idea that the days when unskilled work could provide a "middle class" life style are dead and gone. Whining about it won't bring those days back. When Baby Boomers were growing up, there was a fluke development in our economic history when a person with no education (not even a high school diploma) could get a job in construction or manufacturing and expect to be able to support a family comfortably complete with nice car, house and vacations at the lake or seashore. That started to end in the 70s but with every recession since then, the development gets more entrenched.

I'm no expert on working class attitudes towards education but I have done some reading in the area have listened to working class relatives talk about it. My impression is that many parents who do not have college educations send their kids mixed signals. On the one hand they say "stay in school." On the other they frequently complain about "egg heads" at work or "college boys" who really don't know anything and say that what really matters is "real world" learning as opposed to "book learning." Kids get the message that teachers are not to be respected and college educations are not really neccessary, but more of a pointless hoop that "elitists" make you jump through for no good reason. Politically, this same attitude manifests itself in populist attacks on public universities.

The problem is that if universities are attacked politically and defunded, the same demographic that fuels the resentment behind these policies will be hurt the most. The statistics mentioned above make clear that the way out of the 9-15% unemployment group to the 5% unemployment group is to get a college education. If the only way to get that is in private colleges, which cost at least twice as much as publics to attend (and tend to be harder to get into), it will be exceedingly difficult for people to improve their families' prospects from one generation to the next.

Oh well. It's easier to blame "elitists" and people with dark skin, a different language or sexual preference for our problems.


atchisonmorris said...

Please help me.

We have a huge number of unemployed and discouraged workers.

Some of the unemployed are excellent teachers with advanced degrees.

Strip malls are dying at a fantastic rate as small business is crushed by the economy.

I propose that any strip mall owner who is going under be located and offered a "we'll take over the payments on the mortgage and taxes and make good your late payments but you transfer the title to the local education authority."
You'll get takers.

Identify those capable of teaching any damn subject to people. Welding or PhD teaching level on physics. Doesn't matter. Offer them a position at unemployment rates times 175 per cent.
You'll get takers.

Notify the entire country that education will be provided for free of tuition across the country regardless of class, creed, religion, nationality or race. Provide incentives like transportation subsidies, child care, a guaranteed payment monthly of 125 per cent of the highest monthly employment rate.
You'll get takers.

Offer classes in the "illegal immigrant" areas with no penalties and hire native speakers to educate the immigrants on the local toleration of their employment, teach english, teach legal rights. Forbid anyone from the US government to keep any record of the students. Free tuition and support with transportation, etc.
You'll get takers.

The financial returns will be enormous.

I can't do it because I am clinically insane. I am not stupid. I have over 20 years of formal education.

atchisonmorris said...

Addition to previous comment.

The strip malls would be used as class rooms.

The part on entire country, the rate should have been "a guaranteed payment monthly of 125 per cent of the highest monthly unemployment rate."

The Law Talking Guy said...

We have to face the fact that barely 50% of all Americans get any kind of post-K-12 education in the form of 2-year colleges, community college, or night school. A smaller percentage get "traditional" college - less than 1/3, and barely 10% get the sort of college education that is really associated with upward mobility. This is far more education than in Europe.

So half the country is lucky to have a high school diploma. While some could benefit from college, many cannot. Like every nation, we will have a large (perhaps majority) class of laborers in the "working class" without college education.

Universal college isn't the answer. That's a middle class fantasy. Better high school training and vocational training is closer to the answer. We need millions of mechanics, cooks, plumbers, gardeners, janitors, store clerks, security personnel, airport staff, mail carriers, etc.

Trying to cram the working class into college isn't going to work. What is needed is a way to improve the living standards of the working class AS a working class.

This isn't "unskilled work" necessarily. Much is quite skilled. But it is not the kind of work that needs a college education. I fear that RBR is simply willing to write off the workign class as just unable to compete with the working class in developing countries. We can't go that way.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG, the jobs you mentioned are indeed quite skilled. And I think you'd be surprised how many plumbers have some college courses (especially business) under their belts.

Of course you have a valid point that what we need is not universal access to liberal arts and sciences. Although, more access to that would be better than what we have.

But let's talk about where the jobs are. Are the jobs on assembly lines? No. That's what I have in mind when I think of "unskilled labor." The jobs are in the service sector. That ranges from plumbers to office clerks. In the 1960s you could get a job as an office clerk with a high school diploma. That's probably not true anymore.

Bank tellers, store managers, administrative assistants, insurance company paper pushers, government civil servants etc are all jobs that used to be done by people with HS diplomas but increasing require at least some college to enter the job and promotion prospects would be greatly improved by a BA.

My real bottom line argument though is about the POSSIBILITY of class mobility over generations. Our society values the possibility that if you work hard you can move up. But that won't work in a society where public education is defunded and restrictive.

I'd point out that Western Europe has a real problem with ossification of class status. Class mobility in Europe is much harder than many Europeans desire. Improved access to public education is often a demand of Europeans who have this view.

The Law Talking Guy said...

"Bank tellers, store managers, administrative assistants, insurance company paper pushers, government civil servants etc are all jobs that used to be done by people with HS diplomas but increasing require at least some college to enter the job and promotion prospects would be greatly improved by a BA."

This is actually something very pernicious. At few of these jobs is a BA actually a benefit -it's just functioning as a class barrier. I should remark that in the judiciary, the clerical staff (even surprisingly high) is not required to have a BA, and in my experience a great many do not.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG brings up a useful related point. Part of the problem is that the quality of a high school diploma is poorly matched to the needs of the job market and so other means are used to screen out job applicants. I doubt there is a concerted effort to make bank teller jobs the private domain of the upper middle class though.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I would not be surprised to find out that the requirement of hiring people with BAs followed on the heels of the civil rights acts as a proxy for trying to reduce the number of negroes they had to employ.

Raised By Republicans said...

Now THAT I would believe - especially in places where there were significant numbers of African Americans around to exclude and oppress. But we see growing use of BAs for screening job applicants even in areas where the applicant pool is fairly homogeneous to begin with.