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The Fallacy of Conflating Educational Gains With Economic Prosperity

January 24, 2014

Based on numbers from the Economic Policy Institute, the Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s Maureen Downey reported the following yesterday:

Low-wage workers have far more education now than they did back in 1968. In 1968, 48 percent of low-wage workers had a high school degree, compared to 79 percent in 2012. Correspondingly, many more low-wage workers have attended at least some college or have a college degree, which the graph identifies as ‘college experience.’ While only 16.8 percent of low-wage workers in 1968 had gone to some college or had a college degree, that group had grown to nearly half (45.7 percent) by 2012.

The bottom line is that minimum wage in 2013 is far less now than it was in 1968 despite the economy’s productivity more than doubling, and low-wage workers attaining far more education.

But our leaders keep telling us that more education will solve all of our nation’s economic problems! On the contrary, this is *precisely* how we devalue education in America.

For starters, there has never ever ever been a one-for-one relationship between economic prosperity and education. And this is even less the case when higher education is now funded, more and more, by loans. Education is necessary but never sufficient for economic gains, provided one wants to apply her/his mind to the crass object of earning money alone–of valuing it as the great good.

Our politicians—liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, independent—should put a stopper in all the talk about education leading to economic gains. It both overvalues and devalues education. It overvalues it by distracting us from known things that directly affect material well-being, such as healthcare, minimum guaranteed incomes, and full-employment policies. It undervalues education by distracting from the fact that we need an awesome education infrastructure, from Kindergarten to post-doc programs, that bring about great numbers of smart citizens capable of higher analytic thinking. We need the best voters possible to make our democracy, not capitalism, survive and thrive. – TL

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