Don’t Believe What They Say

I’ve run across two articles at The Atlantic that I wanted to bring to your attention. In the first Nick Hanauer confesses that the scales have fallen from his eyes and he no longer believes that education is the solution to all of the United States’s social problems:

However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.

The scientific literature on this subject is robust, and the consensus overwhelming. The lower your parents’ income, the lower your likely level of educational attainment. Period. But instead of focusing on ways to increase household income, educationists in both political parties talk about extending ladders of opportunity to poor children, most recently in the form of charter schools. For many children, though—especially those raised in the racially segregated poverty endemic to much of the United States—the opportunity to attend a good public school isn’t nearly enough to overcome the effects of limited family income.

As Lawrence Mishel, an economist at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, notes, poverty creates obstacles that would trip up even the most naturally gifted student. He points to the plight of “children who frequently change schools due to poor housing; have little help with homework; have few role models of success; have more exposure to lead and asbestos; have untreated vision, ear, dental, or other health problems; … and live in a chaotic and frequently unsafe environment.”

There is no amount of spending on education that will make up for those deficits. If your objective, like Mr. Hanauer’s is a more equal society, you should adopt strategies that will result in achieving that. Without making this post booklength let me sugggest two of the most important steps in doing that.

This is the kernel of the piece:

The job categories that are growing fastest, moreover, don’t generally require a college diploma, let alone a STEM degree. According to federal estimates, four of the five occupational categories projected to add the most jobs to the economy over the next five years are among the lowest-paying jobs: “food preparation and serving” ($19,130 in average annual earnings), “personal care and service” ($21,260), “sales and related” ($25,360), and “health-care support” ($26,440). And while the number of jobs that require a postsecondary education is expected to increase slightly faster than the number that don’t, the latter group is expected to dominate the job market for decades to come. In October 2018 there were 1 million more job openings than job seekers in the U.S.

First, remember the rule of holes: when you’re in a hole stop digging. If you have a strategy for a more equal society that can level the society (other than by pushing everyone else down) while as high a percent of the people here have an inadequate command of the English language, have not graduated from high school or the equivalent, and do not have skills that can command a middle class wage as is presently the case, propose it. I would submit that there is none. We must limit the number of self-selected immigrants coming into this country which means changing our immigration laws to a skills-based system and enforcing the border.

Second, keep substitution in mind. In 1830 you and your family could survive with a strong back, the willingness to work, a mule, and a plow. You still can but it won’t support a middle class lifestyle and very few people aspire to that—I would speculate a number approaching zero.

Nowadays a bank can have people with only minimal skills sort their checks or they can invest in automation and the people to run the machines. That’s true in practically every sector of the economy. Jobs can be performed by workers with low skills for which they will receive low wages or they can be performed by fewer workers with higher skills who will be paid more.

The most respected study of the effect of immigrants on wages acknowledged that immigrants compete with the lowest-paid workers, pushing their wages down, but it did not address the issue of substitution at all. The consequence of an endless supply of workers willing to work for minimum or sub-minimum wage is that companies align their workforces accordingly.

Practically speaking, the objective of those who don’t want to control our borders or adopt a skills-based immigration system is a sharply divided class society based on race. Don’t believe them if they say otherwise. They are either fools or knaves.

The second but related thing is that we need to devote more attention and resources to the most basic responsibility of government. Education and health care are very nice things. Preserving order in our cities and enforcing the laws are essential.

2 comments… add one
  • Gray Shambler Link

    Seems to me the link between higher educational and economic achievement may not be causal at all but share a trait in common, pro-activeness. And that can be taught as well, usually by example.
    But maybe they could find an hour a week in school if they’d knock off some of the indoctrination.
    And as a second thought this used to be taught in H.S. sports but schools are bigger now and few students participate in competitive sports.

  • steve Link

    I would point out, though most people should now this already, that this is not just a race issue. The poor housing, frequent school changes, fights at schools, crappy school buildings, etc are common in poor white areas. It is so chaotic it is a wonder what a kid rises above it. I wish people from more affluent areas could just walk through some of the schools here to see what they look like.

    So, just to brag a bit, one of the kids who worked in our OR here in coal country made it into med school. He has decided that he is going to go into my group’s specialty. According to his family who work at the hospital here it was because of what we modeled. This doesn’t make up for everyone else who ends up on meth or alcohol or sponging off of their families, but it helps to give hope to the kids who are still trying.


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