What Happened to the American Dream?
Now that we’ve gotten ourselves into this mess, how should we go about getting out of it?
Contrary to the rhetoric of Trump and Sanders, reneging on our trade deals and returning the U.S. to a protectionist society is wildly unrealistic and would likely provoke economically and diplomatically damaging retaliation from other countries.
While improving America’s education system may not reduce upper-tail inequality, it nonetheless does still have the potential to increase worker’s earnings and well-being. Economists have found enormous returns to teacher quality, and college graduates still earn more than high school graduates by a fairly large margin. It’s also no doubt time to think more creatively about post-secondary education.
“I think we need to think about the skill sets that allow people to do evolving jobs in health care, in technical positions, many of which require real skill sets, but they don’t require a four-year liberal arts training,” Autor said at the Hamilton Project panel last year. “So I think we push too many people toward expensive four-year degrees which either are not as efficient as they could be, or not as appealing as they could be. There are opportunities in … these kind of new middle-school occupations.”
Melissa Kearney, an economics professor at the University of Maryland who studies poverty and inequality, points out that education will likely need to be ongoing in the future. She cites the need for on-the-job training and more agile institutions of higher learning. “The labor market and the nature of jobs will likely evolve very rapidly,” she says. “Will people adapt quickly enough? What we really need to be thinking about is how to educate people while also fostering adaptability.”