Search the Site

College and the Widening Wealth Gap


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a few Economic Policy Institute snapshots might be the Great Novel of our time.  A few weeks ago, Heidi Shierholz at EPI brought us yet another harrowing tale from the front lines of the recession generation. In an “Economic Snapshot,” she writes:

As college students head back to the classroom this semester, a harsh reality confronts them — the rewards for the time, energy, and money that young people put into college are less than they were a decade ago.  Since 2000, America’s young college graduates have seen wages, adjusted for inflation, deteriorate.  This lack of wage growth may be particularly surprising to those used to reading about the vast unfilled need for college graduates, which if true would lead to increases in their earnings.

But how is this happening?  Maybe it has something to do with a more recent snapshot from Lawrence Mishel at EPI on the growing wealth gap in America. He writes:

In other words, the richest 5 percent of households obtained roughly 82 percent of all the nation’s gains in wealth between 1983 and 2009. The bottom 60 percent of households actually had less wealth in 2009 than in 1983, meaning they did not participate at all in the growth of wealth over this period.

The average middle class college student, then, seems to be just another sacrifice into a wealth gap that’s looking more and more like the Grand Canyon. Even worse, this week the New York Times reported on the growing trend across public and private American universities to screen applicants based on their need (or preferably lack thereof) for financial aid.
It seems that having crippling student loans to earn a depreciating degree is fast becoming a luxury.