lives for Americans below the poverty line continue to get better in terms of what they are able to put in their households and have to make use of everyday. And do note that theaverage American household in 2005 was doing much better than its 1971 counterpart. MUCH better – and this doesn’t even count medical advances and the like. So whatever one hears about stagnating wages and the like, the bottom line is ultimately what we can afford to buy and have in our households to improve our lives. By those measures, life for the average American is better today than 35 years ago, life for poor Americans is much better than it was 35 years ago, and poor Americans today largely live better than the average American did 35 years ago. Hard to square with a narrative of economic stagnation or decline.
Gary Becker argues, for example, that human capital makes more of a difference than it used to. So “educated” people are more productive in relative terms over “uneducated” than they used to be.
What does it mean to say that the uneducated are less productive than the educated? Is that just an underhanded way of saying they are lazy? Not necessarily. As long term readers here know, my husband was for years the regional manager for a small chain of discount grocery stores, including three located in inner city areas. He would agree that most of the workers (and potential workers) he hired from the lower socioeconomic sectors were less productive, generally speaking.
He saw it as a colossal failure of the public education system, and he observed that the poorest were most often the victims of that local education system. On a regular basis he saw people who had a decent work ethic, but they were unable to do basic math, the couldn’t count out change properly (even when the cash register tells them the exact amount), or spell- this matters when you need somebody to write ‘Cabbage .25 lb on a store sign that will be seen by the public. Their life experiences were so narrow that the could not recognize basic products (they could distinguish among three different kinds of lettuce, and had never heard of, say, an apricot. And these are people with high school diplomas.
Sure, you could teach them those things, but that’s what makes them unproductive- it’s not their work ethic, it’s what can be produced in the same amount of man-hours. An educated person who already knows how to spell cabbage, recognize lettuces, apricots, and other ‘exotic’ foods (like an avocado, or a papaya) can be doing other, more productive things during the time that you are teaching the undereducated employees things they should have been properly taught in high school, or during the time you are doing damage control to fix their mistakes because they didn’t know there was a difference between romaine lettuce and green leafy lettuce, so they’ve put the same price on both of them. It shouldn’t be your manager’s or your employer’s job to bring the basic life skill’s of a high school graduate up to 8th grade level.
That’s educational fraud, and the poor seem to more often be the victims of it, and it keeps them poor.
(let’s not argue about the fact that there are exceptions, ‘kay? Yes, there are. But they shouldn’t be exceptions. They should be the norm. Public schools should be educating the students entrusted to them regardless of parental standards and involvement, or there is no justification for public schools at all).