For the last 50 years, a college education almost guaranteed a secure job with a good salary and benefits; you wouldn’t have to endure the backbreaking labor of your first-generation parents working in factories, digging sewer ditches, or trying to eke a few hundred bucks a month out of a plot of land.
But the high cost of college and the slow growth of the job market since 2000 has caused many young people to question whether higher education is as important as it once was. While most economists insist that it is, they are hard up for an explanation of what is happening to the US job market, and equally as important: What is causing the erosion of the country’s once-great middle class?
And why have so many Americans who have lost their jobs in the last decade, including those with a college education, experienced such hardship finding new employment wit
h similar pay?
A recent New York Times article
examines some possible explanations. The most popular has been the rise of the techno class; that technology has advanced so rapidly that it continues to eliminate the need for low-skilled labor in almost every industry. And the US job market now favors those who are highly educated and have learned how to make the best use of technology.
But that doesn’t explain everything. As the Times’ writer Eduardo Porter points out, the 1 percent “took in almost a dollar out of every $4 generated by the American economy.”
This phenomenon is partly explained by the downward pressure on wages in a global economy and the decline of union power.
I would offer a third explanation: the ability of the 1 percent to accumulate and regulate policy-making power. The Supreme Court’s decision concerning Citizen’s United will enable this imbalance to reach unprecedented levels.
A sliver of super-wealthy Americans are now able to pull politicians’ strings to determine which laws will be passed, what policies will guide the nation’s future, and how much they should pay in taxes. When billionaires can buy a national ad campaign to encourage young people not to purchase health insurance, we can only pray that a college-educated society can somehow be enough to tip the balance of power.