Men in the workforce have, on the whole, lost income ground over the past 40 years, a new study reveals.  Those who have been following the national discussion of income inequality shouldn’t find this data at all surprising.

Over the past 40 years, a period in which U.S. GDP per capita more than doubled after adjusting for inflation, the annual earnings of the median prime-aged male has actually fallen by 28 percent. Indeed, males at the middle of the wage distribution now earn about the same as their counterparts in the 1950s! This decline reflects both stagnant wages for men on the job, and the fact that, compared with 1969, three times as many men of working age don’t work at all.

The American Dream is all about doing better than the previous generation.  This isn’t happening in America anymore.  We’ve ceased to be the land of opportunity for all Americans.  The reasons behind this shift are varied, but nearly always come down to education.  Men are not pursuing levels of education necessary to compete in the modern economy.  Good jobs that once paid a decent wage for high-school graduates have mostly vanished.

The difference today is that men have largely stopped upgrading their skills – the portion of young men who complete college has hardly budged since the late 1970s. The reasons are not entirely clear, but include the end of the Vietnam War (which had artificially inflated college attendance rates among men) and a temporary narrowing of the wage gap in the 1970s as the supply of skilled workers in the labor force surged.

In any event, ordinary men who face diminishing job prospects are less likely to earn middle-class wages.

Men without a high-school diploma have seen their median earnings decline by two-thirds.

Earnings for Men

Over the last 30 years, the cost of higher education has spiraled out of reach for many working class families, relegating them and their children to lower-paying employment.

CPI  Education and All

Educational costs have outpaced inflation by 3x; faster even than healthcare.  Many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters talked about facing enormous ($100,000+) debt burdens after graduating from college.  These are not people graduating from professional schools with M.D.s or J.D.s, which will have ample opportunity to replay their loans, but students graduating with a B.A. or a B.S. who face a labor market as bad as any since the Great Depression.  How will they repay their debts?  Many will not, many will start their professional lives in bankruptcy.

The irony is that we, as a nation, have told them that the key to success is to get an education.  Yet their pursuit of this education leaves them with levels of personal debt so vast that any chance of success is snuffed out before it can even begin.  We are setting up a whole generation to fail.

For America to regain her competitive footing we must commit to a free, universal college education which allows students to enter the workforce free and clear to navigate.  We must ensure that they have the flexibility to apply their skills to solve the problems we face as a nation.  To accept less is to admit defeat.  America will not survive if we do not commit to the development our most important resource, our people.

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