Bonddad at FiveThirtyEight.com 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%
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.