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Education is doing a lot less for the economy than we all thought it would.

In response to recent articles by David Brooks and David Leonhardt, Ezra Klein put up three good blog posts yesterday on the income benefits of a college education. The first. The second. The third. Here is a summary of key points.

Going back to the 1980s there was a broad consensus of Left and Right that education, and especially expanded higher education, should be the cornerstone of America's future growth and individual economic progress. But "the education-as-panacea argument is being overwhelmed by contradictory evidence."

The income gap between high school graduates and college graduates is not widening because incomes of college graduates have accelerated through the last 2 or 3 decades. To the contrary, average incomes of recent college graduates have risen only modestly and not at all since 2001. The widening gap is because the incomes of high school graduates grew at a much slower pace or not at all.

Median incomes of college graduates have not increased as much as average incomes, meaning that most of the gains are going to some subset of college graduates. "[M]any college graduates are now forced to take jobs requiring only high school education."

Whether the increases are going disproportionately to graduates of elite colleges, those with engineering degrees, those with well-connected parents, or some other subset(s) is not reported.

For the source of the quotes and a longer analysis refuting the conventional wisdom about the value of higher education as the solution to all economic problems, go here. A somewhat older issue brief from Economic Policy Institute (cited by Klein) is here. If we care about the decline and grim prospects of the American Middle Class—and I'm not sure we do—we're going to need policy responses that go way beyond education.

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