robertogreco + wages + unemployment   6

the millennial/gen-z strategy - the collected ahp
"“Tell a subset of your population that they are entitled to economic security if they play by certain rules, provide them with four years of training in critical thinking and access to a world-class library — then deny them the opportunities they were promised, while affixing an anchor of debt around their necks — and you’ve got a recipe for a revolutionary vanguard.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this article by Eric Levitz, published earlier this week, with the straightforward title “This One Chart Explains Why the Kids Back Bernie.” The chart (or rather, the stats that create the chart) are indeed explanatory:
(1) The unemployment rate among recent college graduates in the U.S. is now higher than our country’s overall unemployment rate for the first time in over two decades, (2) More than 40 percent of recent college graduates are working jobs that do not traditionally require a bachelor’s degree (while one in eight are stuck in posts that pay $25,000 or less), and (3) the median income among the bottom half of college graduates is roughly 10 percent lower than it was three decades ago.

This is the millennial (and Old Gen-Zer) reality: an “anchor of student debt,” as Levitz puts it, taken out in the hopes of achieving fabled economic security. But who convinced us that college was going to solve, well, everything? In the book I’m finally finished writing on millennial burnout (actual cover coming soon, I promise) I try to work through that question: how did we come to believe in “(the best) college at any cost”? (See also: grad school at any cost).

A lot of the answer can be traced to “the education gospel,” a term coined by an economist (W. Norton Grubb) and a sociologist (Marvin Laverson) to describe the nexus of ideologies (about the future of America and democracy; about how to beat the USSR, then Japan, then China; about how the economy could replace the manufacturing jobs displaced by globalization) that undergird “college at any cost.”

Grubb and Laverson chose the word “gospel” to evoke just how ideological integrated — how naturalized — the idea had become. Of course more education is better than less education; of course you should go to college by any means necessary — even when the costs of that college outweigh the benefits, despite increasing evidence that college is not “worth” its cost for those who drop-out, or for those who come from lower-class backgrounds. They point to a study from the National Commission on the High School Senior year, released in 2001: “In the agricultural age, post-secondary college was a pipe dream for most Americans,” it declared. “In the Industrial Age, it was the birthright of only a few. By the space age it became common for many. Today, it is just common sense for all.”

The roots of this “common sense” go back to the mid-20th century, when the government decided to create the grant and loan programs that made it much, much easier for people to go to college. In 1947, 4.2% of women and 6.2% of men had a college degree; in 2018, those numbers had risen to 35.3% and 34.6% — but that’s of the entire population. A more useful statistic is the percentage of high school graduates who immediately enroll in college: which, in 2016, was 69.7%.

And here’s where the stats become really telling. For the group of students who started college — any type of college — in 2011, only 56.9% had finished their degree by 2017. Around 70% of graduates have student debt of some sort; in 2016, the average debt load was $37,172. That’s a huge amount of debt, especially given the fact that it’s $20,000 more than it was in 2003.

But that’s the people who have degrees. If you reverse the completion stat above, you realize that 43.1% of students who started college in 2011 had not finished their degree in six years. These are students who believed that college could be a pathway towards success, of stability, or their dream job — but couldn’t make it work. There are so many reasons why people are forced (or choose) to drop out of school, and some do find success and stability because they quit school. But they often have nearly as much debt as those with a degree but none of the credentials to put on their resumes — which helps explain why they’re three times as likely to default on their loans.

The institution that pisses me off the most in this scenario are for-profit colleges, where only 23% of students graduate, and 48% of those who do leave with more than $40,000 in debt. A whopping 52% of student loan defaults come from graduates of for-profit colleges. If you don’t know about the general scamminess and ethical grossness of the for-profit college, I can’t recommend Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed enough (you can buy it here, and read an excerpt here).

But if college is theoretically an “equality machine,” then for-profit colleges are inequality machine: they target first generation students, they disproportionately enroll (and fuck over) students of color, they charge massive amounts of money for degrees and education that could be obtained for far less at local community colleges, they jack up their price to the maximum allotted under loan guidelines, and they get away with it because 1) Betsy DeVos and 2) millennials have been so inculcated with the education gospel that, again, we believe that no matter how much it costs, how difficult it will be to complete a degree, how tight the market might be in the field we’re pursuing, the degree itself will be worth it.

To be clear: people with college degrees make more, statistically speaking, than people without college degrees. But the “equality” component of the machine is broken. There’s a massive gap between the promises that floated around that degree — and that includes graduate degrees — and the lived post-degree experience. We’re not talking about liberal arts graduates ski-bumming until they decide they’re ready for that six-figure job. We’re talking about those 40% of graduates working jobs that don’t even require a college degree, and the one in eight working jobs that pay $25,000 or less.

I’ve talked to and heard from hundreds of millennials in this position. If they have loans, they’re either on income-based repayment (and they’re convinced that they’ll be paying them off forever), in default (with reverberations and shame across the rest of their lives), or in deferment (amassing huge amounts of interest). They feel stupid and ashamed that they took out as much money as they did, or pissed that so many forces in their lives — parents, guidance counselors, professors, culture, peers — assured them that it would all work out, if they could just get that degree. It’s hard to convey just how difficult and devastating it is to pay down a broken dream every single month for the rest of your life.

I’ve written extensively about student loans, and the broken state of the student loan forgiveness program, here. That piece was the first thing I wrote after the original millennial burnout article, because it was the most tangible expression of the gap between what millennials were told their future would look like, if only they worked hard enough, and the lived, post-Recession reality. To understand millennial burnout, you can’t just understand the amount of student loans we’re carrying; you have to understand what they feel like. And if and when you understand that, it’s incredibly straightforward to see why so many support Sanders and Warren.

Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, middle-class boomers and young Gen-Xers were faced with the reality that their parents’ broadly stable middle-class existence would not necessarily pass down to them. The so-called Golden Age of American Capitalism had lasted just long enough that those who grew up under it could believe that it might last forever. They responded to the decline in stable middle class jobs in a number of ways: many of them, too, went to college, but because public institution funding had yet to be gutted by tax cuts, it cost much, much, much less. (Cue: your boomer uncle who loves to tell you he worked his way through college and graduated without loans).

But as Barbara Ehrenreich persuasively argues in Fear of Falling, they responded by turning decisively inward: how can I do whatever is possible to help me and mine? You could work tirelessly at cutthroat, soulless jobs (investment banking!) no matter the cost (to yourself, to your family, to the environment, to society), adopting what Ehrenreich calls “the yuppie strategy.” Or you could vote for politicians who promised to lower your taxes, make your life better, regardless of the effects on those who didn’t act and spend and look like you. (See: the widespread embrace of Reaganism). As Levitz points out, in 1984, 61% of voters under 25 voted for Reagan. Conservativism — think Michael J. Fox as Alex Keaton from Family Ties — was, I dunno, cool? Not actually cool, but very much mainstream.

The strategy makes “sense,” in so far as it was motivated by self-preservation and fear. And a whole lot of millennials were raised by parents who lived through, if not fully embraced, the guiding ideologies of that period. But it’s fascinating to watch as millennials and Gen-Z — — faced not just with the fear of falling, but the widespread reality — embrace a profoundly different one."
genz  millennials  generations  geny  education  highered  highereducation  debt  studentdebt  boomers  wnortongrubb  ericlevitz  unemployment  employment  wages  loans  unschooling  deschooling  educationgospel  marvinlaverson  ussr  coldwar  japan  china  highschool  inequality  commonsense  investment  parenting  betsydevos  nonprofits  nonprofit  forprofits  capitalism  berniesanders  elizabethwarren  barbaraehrenreich  ronaldreagan  reaganism  conservatism  familyties  alexkeaton  michaeljfox  tressiemcmillancottom  race  generationz  generationy 
8 days ago by robertogreco
On the Tragedy of Paul Volcker
“The Volcker Rule

In 2009, when the world was falling apart, a lot of people were asking new President Barack Obama to turn to Paul Volcker, the tall and prestigious former central banker whose reputation was of near God-like stature. Obama did, asking Volcker for advice. But Larry Summers, key advisor to Obama, sabotaged the relationship. Volcker encouraged Obama to stop banks from gambling with internal hedge funds, but Summers wanted banks to keep gambling with internal hedge funds. Summers won the bureaucratic fight.

Volcker’s titanic reputation was by then decades old. But so too was Volcker pursuing honesty in finance, and getting pushed out because of it. In 1986, Ronald Reagan essentially fired Volcker from his position as the head of the Federal Reserve because Paul Volcker was trying to crack down on the junk-bond fueled mergers craze that was clearly corrupting America’s savings and loan banks. Felix Rohatyn, a Democratic fixer and Lazard investment banker, pleaded with the Republicans, “if we sacrifice Paul Volcker for the junk-bond mania, we will clearly show the world that we’ve lost any sense of financial responsibility.”

Here’s a story from 1986, at the height of the frenzy.

Volcker lost the battle at the Fed, and ultimately Alan Greenspan, who was on the payroll of one of the largest corrupt savings and loan banks, took over. Volcker, in pursuing financial rectitude, had no allies except the ‘respect’ of the financial world, which, as it turns out, isn’t worth much at all. And the reason, ironically, is because Volcker killed his greatest would-be allies.

I first ran into Volcker’s career while researching Penn Central, the train system that went bankrupt in 1970 in the greatest then-collapse in American history. It was like the Enron of its time. The Nixon administration tasked the conservative Volcker with overseeing the fiasco, and he was a fairly honest broker. He tried, not very hard, to get a bailout, but when Congressman Wright Patman said no, that was that.

In 1979 Jimmy Carter nominated Volcker to be the head of the Fed. Carter’s advisor warned him that Volcker was the “candidate of Wall Street.” In an era of red-hot inflation, Volcker’s goal was to cut the growth of prices, with the ultimate end of keeping the dollar strong globally. He had popular backing, Americans saw inflation as the most pressing economic problem. Volcker went straight at the auto sector, the unionized pace setting industry which set the informal wage growth patterns of the entire country since the 1950s.

His goal was to crush wages, straight out. To give you a sense of how strongly he felt about this goal, consider that during this period, from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, Volcker walked around with a card of union wages in his pocket to remind himself that his goal was to crush the middle class. Volcker even angered Reagan officials by keeping interest rates too high for too long. When they complained, he would pull “out his card on union wages” and note that inflation would not come down permanently until labor “got the message and surrendered.” Volcker said that the prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s was a “hall of mirrors” and that the “standard of living of the average American must decline.”

Volcker was a deeply conservative, but not corrupt, official. I think the speech that best exemplifies how he thought was one he gave in 1981 before the Economic Club of New York, lauding the bankruptcy and turnaround of the city.

Five years ago, when I last addressed the Economic Club, the preoccupation of the day was the acute financial distress of this great City and State. That big black headline in the Daily News—”Ford to New York: Drop Dead”—was not quite accurate. But in its bold and brazen way, it did carry an essential message. Any lasting solution to our economic problems would have to begin, and end at home.

A month or so ago, I was struck by another headline, this time in a Wall Street Journal editorial: “The Supply Side Saves New York.” Somehow, in five years, New York had become an example for the rest of the country to follow.”

Volcker, in other words, was an ardent fan of austerity. And in his speech, he explicitly noted that New York City had no printing press to get out of the fiscal jam it had been in. That was, as Volcker put it, “fortunate.” Instead, the city had to slash expenditures, particularly on the poor. Volcker hoped that the America would take this lesson to heart nationally, and since he ran the printing press, that’s what he made sure happened. He also believed strongly in slashing taxes, government spending, and in deregulation, as he said to businessmen in Kansas City that year.

Volcker raised interest rates radically, crushing small businesses, farms, banks, and credit unions. To many of his fans, and even his opponents, this was simply what had to be done to get inflation out of the system. But there was a brief experiment, if forgotten, experiment in trying a different path, In the spring of 1980, Jimmy Carter encouraged Volcker not to raise interest rates, but to place “credit controls” onto consumer borrowing. Credit controls are direct public rules on specific lending institutions that make it more or less expensive to lend or borrow, and were a major mechanism to keep inflation out of the system during World War Two and the Korean War. And the Fed had the authority to make it more expensive for banks and financial institutions to issue credit cards and lend money to consumers.

Volcker used these tools incredibly poor, clumsily even, with some suspecting he was intending to sabotage the use of regulatory tools he didn’t like. Inflation collapsed, as did interest rates and the economy slid rapidly. Within a few months, Volcker and the bankers got rid of credit controls. Inflation and interest rates jumped right back up, and Volcker was able to discredit credit controls. He then inflicted massive pain on the middle class instead of the banking system by using interest rates and monetary policy, instead of explicitly telling big banks to stop lending.

At the same time as Volcker was destroying unions, small banks, small farms, and small businesses, he was structuring the Too Big to Fail model of finance. In 1980, Nelson and Bunker Hunt, two oil billionaire heirs, tried to corner the silver market in league with Arab interests. Volcker organized a bailout. By 1980, Wall Street had gotten the message. Economist Albert Wojnilower explained, “It is now everywhere taken for granted that no monetary authority will allow any key financial actor to fail.”

In the middle of the 1980s, Volcker’s strategy looked like a success. Inflation was gone, the economy was growing, technology seemed to be restructuring society, and the workforce had largely been de-unionized. But there was a something of a mirage, as a bubble in financial leverage through savings and loan banks and junk bonds emerged. Volcker tried to crack down on this bubble, to block the use of junk bonds for certain kinds of seedy transactions. He knew a scumbag when he saw one, and the junk bond peddlers and M&A artists were scum. But by then, his allies against financial corruption, notably the small banks, small business, and unions, were dead or dying. So it was Paul Volcker and all his vaunted respect, versus an army on Wall Street.

There was no contest. The predatory bankers won, as they did again in 2009.

Towards the end of his life, Volcker railed against the corruption he saw everywhere. But he never connected the dots between his own actions destroying public institutions and the inability to constrain the financial corruption he despised. Many people in finance have fond memories of an incorruptible Paul Volcker standing up against financial corruption and reigning in inflation. Which is true. But Volcker really wasn’t on the side of democracy, and that’s why he oversaw nothing but decline.

I ran into Paul Volcker a few years ago at a conference when I was a Democratic Congressional staffer. He harangued me and said ‘why are you Democrats so weak?’ I wish I had responded, ‘because you killed the unions.’

And that is the tragedy of Paul Volcker.”
mattstoller  paulvolcker  2020  economics  middleclass  finance  us  policy  toobigtofail  labor  employment  unemployment  inflation  richardnixon  jimmycarter  corruption  democracy  work  banking  unions  smallbusiness  farming  albertwojnilower  austerity  creditunions  wages  responsibility  savingsandloancrisis  felixrohatyn  barackobama  larrysummers 
10 weeks ago by robertogreco
Better Public Schools Won’t Fix Income Inequality - The Atlantic
"Like many rich Americans, I used to think educational investment could heal the country’s ills—but I was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first."


"Long ago, i was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

But after decades of organizing and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong. And I hate being wrong.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000.

To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income.

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem."


"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.”

Indeed, multiple studies have found that only about 20 percent of student outcomes can be attributed to schooling, whereas about 60 percent are explained by family circumstances—most significantly, income. Now consider that, nationwide, just over half of today’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, up from 38 percent in 2000. Surely if American students are lagging in the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills our modern economy demands, household income deserves most of the blame—not teachers or their unions.

If we really want to give every American child an honest and equal opportunity to succeed, we must do much more than extend a ladder of opportunity—we must also narrow the distance between the ladder’s rungs. We must invest not only in our children, but in their families and their communities. We must provide high-quality public education, sure, but also high-quality housing, health care, child care, and all the other prerequisites of a secure middle-class life. And most important, if we want to build the sort of prosperous middle-class communities in which great public schools have always thrived, we must pay all our workers, not just software engineers and financiers, a dignified middle-class wage.

Today, after wealthy elites gobble up our outsize share of national income, the median American family is left with $76,000 a year. Had hourly compensation grown with productivity since 1973—as it did over the preceding quarter century, according to the Economic Policy Institute—that family would now be earning more than $105,000 a year. Just imagine, education reforms aside, how much larger and stronger and better educated our middle class would be if the median American family enjoyed a $29,000-a-year raise.

In fact, the most direct way to address rising economic inequality is to simply pay ordinary workers more, by increasing the minimum wage and the salary threshold for overtime exemption; by restoring bargaining power for labor; and by instating higher taxes—much higher taxes—on rich people like me and on our estates.

Educationism appeals to the wealthy and powerful because it tells us what we want to hear: that we can help restore shared prosperity without sharing our wealth or power. As Anand Giridharadas explains in his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, narratives like this one let the wealthy feel good about ourselves. By distracting from the true causes of economic inequality, they also defend America’s grossly unequal status quo.

We have confused a symptom—educational inequality—with the underlying disease: economic inequality. Schooling may boost the prospects of individual workers, but it doesn’t change the core problem, which is that the bottom 90 percent is divvying up a shrinking share of the national wealth. Fixing that problem will require wealthy people to not merely give more, but take less."
economics  education  inequality  2019  labor  work  policy  poverty  history  nickhanauer  educationism  charitableindustrialcomplex  philanthropicindustrialcomplex  philanthropy  trickledowneconomics  ronaldreagan  billclinton  canon  edusolutionism  us  unemployment  billgates  gatesfoundation  democracy  wages  alicewalton  paulallen  anandgiridharadas  middleclass  class  housing  healthcare  publicschools  publiceducation  schools  learning  howwelearn  opportunity  lawrencemishel  curriculum  innovation 
june 2019 by robertogreco
The story of college — Medium
[Wayback: ]

"We are left with a situation in which institutions that were originally created to perpetuate the reign of an inherited, moneyed elite, and to train that elite to be civic leaders, are now facing the burden of incredible expectations. We expect our colleges, at this point, to essentially create a healthy labor market. With the demise of the middle class uneducated lifestyle, thanks to deliberate policy choices to crush unions and globalize labor markets, colleges are now expected to train an ever-growing population of students adequately to ensure them good jobs. Meanwhile, the madcap race to compete in the Resort-Hotel-Plus-Classes vision of higher education has resulted in an increasing reliance on exploited adjunct labor, the demise of the professoriate, the rise of sky-high tuitions and attendant debt loads, and more and more deserved public scrutiny.

In other words, America’s conservative, corporatist turn has led to declining per-capita state funding for universities thanks to austerity politics, the demise of unions as upwards pressure on wages, a shredded social safety net for those who struggle, and spiraling inequality that sees more and more of the economic pie eaten by a tiny elite. College still makes sense for graduates, as they continue to enjoy significant premiums in wages and unemployment over those without college educations. But the race to credentialize puts enormous pressure on high school students to attend the most selective institutions, erodes the value of the bachelor’s degree itself and compels many to pursue graduate degrees in law or business or medicine, and perhaps even perpetuates inequality rather than reducing it. After all, even with all of the expansion, only about 40% of working Americans has a college degree. It is unclear if the economic advantage they enjoy will survive with further expansion, given that skilled labor is subject to basic forces of supply and demand.

We’re left in a situation where everyone agrees that something has gone badly wrong, but no one is quite sure what alternatives to pursue. Many, such as myself, believe that too many people are being pushed into colleges where they are unlikely to succeed, but there is little in the way of alternative plans for mass prosperity. Arguments to increase the number of students attending trade schools are intuitively satisfying but lack evidentiary support. Arguments for sending more and more students into STEM fields are directly contradicted by available evidence. Arguments for mass online education cannot provide evidence that such systems can actually provide a quality education, particularly for the most at-risk students, and omit the social and networking functions that are an important aspect of college success. Average people can’t afford the rising cost of college thanks to enormous income inequality and stagnant wages, but neither can they afford not to go to school.

Colleges and universities deserve harsh criticism and badly need reform. The rise in administrative and amenity spending is suicidal; the use of exploited labor, unconscionable. Tuition rates must continue to slow, as they recently have. But ultimately, the problem is with our economy writ large. The pressures that colleges are under stem from the demise of broadly-shared prosperity. Without returning a substantial portion of the income growth for the top 10%, 5%, and 1% to the median American, there is likely no alternative to mass debt and economic stagnation. Proposals for free tuition and broad student loan forgiveness are a good start. But ultimately, our problems with higher education can only be solved through redistributive economic reform."
freddiedeboer  highered  highereducation  2015  history  policy  administrativebloat  economics  gender  race  colleges  universities  politics  inequality  labor  costs  education  stagnation  ronaldreagan  anationatrisk  wages  employment  unemployment  tuition  unions  us 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Overworked America: 12 Charts that Will Make Your Blood Boil | Mother Jones
"In the past 20 years, the US economy has grown nearly 60 percent. This huge increase in productivity is partly due to automation, the internet, and other improvements in efficiency. But it's also the result of Americans working harder—often without a big boost to their bottom lines. Oh, and meanwhile, corporate profits are up 20 percent."
culture  politics  economics  business  work  labor  us  world  comparison  productivity  2011  overwork  wages  growth  employment  unemployment  disparity  inequality  vacation  maternityleave  childcare 
june 2011 by robertogreco

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