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Why do parents want their kids to go to college? Because advanced education pays off.


State Sen. Fran Millar of DeKalb once noted many Georgia parents applaud the effort to get more kids to consider technical colleges. However, those parents often saw technical college as an option for other kids, not their own. For their children, parents still wanted a four-year college degree.

Commenters on the blog frequently remark we've oversold the importance of a college degree to parents and, as a result, send too many Georgia teens off to campuses where they flounder.

Here is a column by Peter Morici, an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, that helps explain why parents believe their kids need a degree to compete. (Morici tweets @pmorici1.)

A key point in his essay on jobs and wages: "Too many Americans simply don’t qualify for the jobs that pay high wages in a globalized, technologically advanced economy. Consequently, average family incomes continue to cycle down, even as the upper middle class—the top 20 percent or so—gets richer."

Over the long weekend, I saw old friends and learned what their grown children were doing. Across the board, young adults with STEM degrees were thriving, especially those in the IT field. The young adults struggling economically or relying on their parents to pay the rent were those who did not finish college or chose to work in the arts.

To underscore the role education plays in earnings, I've included a new salary chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

By Peter Morici

The U.S. economy is growing again—about 2.5 percent annually in the second quarter and going forward—but good jobs remain scarce and wage gains lackluster. New technologies are reducing the demand for workers but poor government policies are making matters worse.

Friday, the Labor Department is expected to report the economy added 180,000 jobs in June, but this is partially catch up after a strike hammered down the May figure. The monthly average was about 113,000 from April to June, and that’s about half the pace from 2013 to 2015.

The robotics and artificial intelligence revolution is all around us—even if we don’t yet have an android doing our housework.

Uber brings patrons cars without the dispatchers that once took calls at the local car services.  At Amazon Prime, customers point and click without the aid of sales clerks and packages are increasingly assembled by robots at fulfillment centers.

Tasks requiring complex manual dexterity have proven tougher to replace but automated checkouts are spreading, and robots are at the cusp of not just taking orders at McDonald’s but also grasping and handing you hamburgers, fries and soft drinks.

Globalization accelerates these trends by forcing more aggressive substitution of machines for high-wage Americans in factories.

The next generation of Boeing jetliners will be assembled with more robots—moving and fixing components into place. What few people are left will be greatly assisted, for example, by Google Glass and software that aid in assembling the complex wiring and programming of cockpits.

Sweeping labor saving innovations have confronted us since the spear and the wheel but in the past, we moved redundant workers who often did repetitive manual tasks into emerging industries. As agriculture mechanized, workers moved to repetitive tasks in manufacturing and as factories automated, workers moved into services—for example, at convenience restaurants, shopping malls and dry cleaners.

As those jobs disappear, the economy has too few new uses for workers that can’t perform complex, intellectually demanding work.

Major institutional failures make these challenges more wrenching.

Bad trade agreements permit other nations to boost exports into U.S. markets without accepting comparable amounts of American made goods and services. Subsidies, currency manipulation and non-tariff barriers to U.S. exports accentuate pressures on companies like Boeing and Ford to automate or outsource more.

The Obama administration promised thousands of new jobs from the 2012 Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, but it boosted the trade deficit by $16 billion and unemployment by 130,000.

The Affordable Care Actmandatory overtime and higher minimum wages imposed by many states and cities raise the cost of employing Americans, compelling businesses to purchase labor saving devices more quickly or close.

Our high schools and colleges are better at preaching social justice than producing enough graduates who can do the complex cognitive work that machines still leave to human beings. Skilled technicians with a year or two training and graduate engineers and systems analysts remain too scarce.

Too many Americans simply don’t qualify for the jobs that pay high wages in a globalized, technologically advanced economy. Consequently, average family incomes continue to cycle down, even as the upper middle class—the top 20 percent or so—gets richer.

Passing laws—taxing the upper middle class to subsidize child care or by forcing them to pay more for hamburgers to support a higher minimum wage—do not address those fundamental policy failures and leave America vulnerable to more aggressive societies in Asia.

Policymakers more effectively manage globalization by negotiating better trade deals, stop pandering to voters with giveaway programs and force schools and universities to shift from proselytizing about the evils of American capitalism to equipping young people with the skills they need to compete


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.