Texas Middle Class Goes Extinct

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Tract houses and large automobiles, sprinkler systems and granite countertops, all will be swept away in an overwhelming tide of ignorance, say Texas educators. According to a piece by John Julitz at KKRW in Houston:

The Lumina Foundation says Texas needs to add 30,000 additional students to the ranks of its college graduates annually, starting this year, until 2025. If the Lone Star state fails to reach that goal, Lumina Vice President Dewayne Matthews says the state’s middle class will evaporate.

“If we don’t get serious about educating all our kids, we really will be hampering our ability to have a civic discussion about the kind of communities we want and the kind of economic structures we want,” [Director of the Center for Education at Rice University Linda McSpadden] McNeil says.”

Well someone alert Karl Marx. I guess he was right after all.

While the sentiments behind this are perhaps admirable, this is ridiculous. This is an example of what Nicholas Lemann recently called the persuasive and misleading “narrative of crisis, of a systemic failure, in American education.”

Going to college is very important. People who go to college earn more money, live longer, and are healthier than those who do not. A college-educated workforce also promotes creativity and innovation in the economy.

If the college education rate in Texas stays the same as it is now (33 percent of Texas adults have an associate degree or higher) in the next ten years that would be very bad, but it would not eliminate the state’s middle class. As long as there is capitalism in Texas the state will need a middle class (highly skilled workers, and lower and middle management) to manage it.

In truth, college mostly represents the opportunity for working class people to become middle class. This the reason the Lumina Foundation and the Obama administration are working to increase the number of Americans who graduate from college.

The problem with this “dying middle class” talk is that it’s so overblown that can cause people to ignore very real shifts in the economy. This is what the Lumina Foundation really says:

Employers increasingly depend on the skills and knowledge of their workers, and they are paying a premium to get those skills. Meanwhile, the well-paying, low-skill jobs that American industry used to provide in abundance are disappearing quickly. What is left, as documented by MIT economist David Autor, is a stratified job market in which jobs are either high-skill/high-wage or low-skill/low-wage. In this economy, workers with jobs in the former category are in the middle class or above; those with jobs in the latter category are the working poor.

That’s what’s going on here; good jobs require that people go to some sort of college. People who don’t go to college will, therefore, be shut out of the middle class entirely. That’s the important part, who’s in the middle class; it’s not about the existence of that segment of society. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer