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The “college premium” is driving income inequality

The “college premium” is driving income inequality

Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis And What We Can Do About It says factors that have enriched the top one percent of Americans, sometimes at the expense of the other 99 percent, constitute only half of the story of income inequality in the United States. Writing in The New York Times, Noah points out that p

eople without a college education are faring more poorly than in the past. He says:

Since 1979 the income gap between people with college or graduate degrees and people whose education ended in high school has grown. Broadly speaking, this is a gap between working-class families in the middle 20 percent (with incomes roughly between $39,000 and $62,000) and affluent-to-rich families (say, the top 10 percent, with incomes exceeding $111,000). This skills-based gap is the inequality most Americans see in their everyday lives.

Conservatives don’t typically like to talk about income inequality. It stirs up uncomfortable questions about economic fairness. (That’s why as a candidate Mitt Romney told a TV interviewer that inequality was best discussed in “quiet rooms.”) On those rare occasions when conservatives do bring it up, it’s the skills-based gap that usually draws their attention, because it offers an opportunity to criticize our government-run system of public education and especially teachers’ unions.

Liberals resist talking about the skills-based gap because they don’t want to tell the working classes that they’re losing ground because they didn’t study hard enough. Liberals prefer to focus on the 1 percent-based gap. Conceiving of inequality as something caused by the very richest people has obvious political appeal, especially since (by definition) nearly all of us belong to the 99 percent. There’s also a pleasing simplicity to the causes of the growing gap between the 1 and the 99. There are only two, and both are familiar liberal targets: the rise of a deregulated financial sector and the erosion of accountability in compensating top executives outside finance. (The cohort most reflective of these trends is actually the top 0.1 percent, who make $1.6 million or more, but let’s not quibble.)

Some of the solutions to this problem have had bipartisan support in the past, Noah says, but others, including the strengthening of labor unions, would meet stiff resistance in some quarters.

What is the role of the church in the debate over inequalities of wealth and income?


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Ann Fontaine

Yes- Melissa as the church runs many of those schools. For instance, Oregon Episcopal School.

Melissa Holloway

What is the role of the church in the debate . . . .


What is the role of the church with a network of private, elite, expensive high schools in the creation and persistence in inequalities of wealth and income?

Adam Spencer

Hey JC,

I think I disagree. Now bear in mind that I was a Religious Studies major in undergrad and am currently doing grad work in Religion. I know firsthand the value of the humanities and specifically the academic study of religion. That said, I do think we need to be encouraging people to be entrepreneurs, accountants, doctors, engineers etc etc. Science and math and business based education is USEFUL. And that’s not just some base capitalist thing – that’s a what-makes-society-run thing. There have been many days when I’ve looked at my education and wondered at what may have been had I pursued a career in engineering or tried to start my own business. We need people who do these things. My dad is a retired autoworker, my mom’s a nurse, my grandfathers were also blue collar laborers, one of my mentors growing up owned his own store. If there’s an education gap, its that we’re teaching to, frankly, USELESS standards in our elementary/middle/high schools when we should be teaching valuable work and math/science skills alongside “deep thought and creativity”. And that’s not some horrible dystopian nightmare Man As Cog idea. That’s a realistic modern society that functions and isn’t just some dreamy Isle of the Philsophers. (Which isn’t what you’re suggesting, I’m sure) Even St. Paul had a pratical day job. Ok. There. I’m done. 😛


Hmmm. Education Gap? If so, I’d be rich!

No, I think it’s a Market Value Gap. Certain kinds of education are valued by the market (professional degrees: JDs, MDs, MBAs, or certain mathmatically-based Bachelors degrees); others, no matter how much time/$ is invested in them (no matter how much deep, original thinking), aren’t. [Higher education in religion? Fuhgeddaboutit! Unless you get a wealthy congregation…]

Capitalism is triumphant: it declares what has value, and what doesn’t. Faith-based values (unless they’re the kinds co-opted by Capitalism/having little or nothing to do w/ Jesus!) Need Not Apply (anymore than someone w/o a college degree).

JC Fisher

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