2016 election, college premium, debt, Donald Trump, Economic Policy Institute, education, Financial Crisis, Im-Politic, incomes, Mainstream Media, manufacturing, Marketwatch.com, offshoring, real wages, recession, The Race to the Bottom, Tim Mullaney, Trade, wages
I guess it was only a matter of time before the Mainstream Media’s hostility to Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy showed signs of moving into its next phase. Its mainstays have blasted the Republican front-runners’ own views and business record and character. They’ve warned that at least some of his supporters are outright racists and other forms of unquestionably bigoted extremists.
Now at least one writer has decided to dump on that large (and perhaps overwhelming) share of Trump-Nation motivated by sagging and even falling incomes. According to Marketwatch.com columnist Tim Mullaney, not only do the downwardly mobile (presumably) whites deserve no sympathy for their plight. They’re the ones who are overwhelmingly responsible.
In Mullaney’s words: “[I]f you’re 45-plus and thinking life passed you by because you didn’t understand the necessity of an education any time after 1975, you were too hormone-addled at 18 to grasp something that had long been obvious.
“When Trump’s base was coming of age, John Naisbitt’s ‘Megatrends’ was a best-seller for a full two years. You couldn’t read it or even hear about it much (and it spawned dozens of books and too many articles and TV segments to count) without understanding factories were closing and not coming back, and people who grew up wanting that life needed a Plan B. The 1982 recession, which launched Barack Obama’s career as a community organizer in neighborhoods hit by steel-mill closings, made it pretty obvious too.”
Mullaney says his background has innoculated him against “liberal elitist” charges, so let’s focus on something that’s more important. This indictment is factually wrong and analytically shortsighted.
As I’ve reminded Mullaney on Twitter, Trump’s support among the college-educated is anything but negligible. And one big reason is that in recent decades the oft-touted wage premium received by college grads over their less-educated counterparts hasn’t prevented their own wages from stagnating and even worse. In other words, more education is a great bet for ensuring that incomes will escape the massive hit taken by the less educated. But that’s not because graduates’ wages have been killing it. It’s because they’ve been declining less than the wages for those lacking a Bachelor’s degree – as this stunning chart shows:
|Year||Less than high school||High school||Some college||College||Advanced degree|
The bottom line is the cumulative change, meaning that during this period, after-inflation wages for the college-educated actually fell by two percent. And even for holders of advanced degrees, they only stayed flat.
Nor, as Mullaney (reasonably) supposed, is widespread wage deterioration simply a consequences of the financial crisis and its punishing aftermath. Data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute (the source of the above material, too), show that from 1973 to 2007 (the final year before the recession struck), the wages of college-educated Americans increased by only 14.79 percent. That’s a 34-year period!
It’s true that, even for those who completed “some college” during that longer period, inflation-adjusted wages dipped by 0.65 percent, and they were off by more for those with only high school diplomas or less. But when you throw in the towering levels of student debt so many Americans have amassed in recent years, the case for finishing college looks like even less impressive.
Mullaney’s column also overlooks the heavy price the nation as a whole has paid for the de-industrialization that has eliminated so many middle class job opportunities for working class Americans. Of course, a large percentage of those jobs were wiped out by automation or other efficiency gains. But a large percentage are just as gone because clueless American trade policies either encouraged the offshoring of factories (and labs) to low-income countries or ignored the damage inflicted by predatory competition from higher income countries like Japan. And as I’ve long written, when Washington encouraged downwardly mobile Americans to resort to borrowing to maintain the living standards undermined by these lost incomes, the financial crisis became inevitable.
Nor, as I found out when researching my book The Race to the Bottom back in the late-1990s, more education wasn’t insulating American workers from these globalization-related threats because higher wage, knowledge-intensive jobs were being offshored as well (or taken by high skill H-1B immigrants) and because every other government on earth – including those in low-income countries – was working frantically to better educate its workers, too. And their numbers were immense enough to hold their own wages far below levels in the developed countries.
Moreover, as I also pointed out on Twitter, Trump’s backing among the college educated (and the even better educated) could well be much higher than many polls are showing. The reason? Many such voters are embarrassed to tell telephone pollsters their true political leanings. The evidence? Trump gets much better numbers in on-line polls than in phone surveys.
As always, I’m not saying that Trump would make a good president, much less that he’s beyond criticism. But in covering his campaign – and his constituency – is it too much to ask the media to refrain from blaming victims of America’s unmistakably mismanaged economy for their resentments?