Americans Have Never Been Better-Educated

A blog about business and economics.
June 14 2013 8:57 AM

Americans Are Better Educated Than Ever Before

education

New data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that for all the problems with American education, the current cohort of young people is the best-educated such cohort we've ever had notwithsanding the continued migration of many poorly educated Latin Americans to the United States.

So good for us. This brings a more precise datapoint to bear on an argument I made last year about why I don't agree with people who say we've had stagnating living standards for the past 40 years. Stagnationism used to be very prominent on the left, but since Barack Obama's inauguration I've increasingly heard it from the right as well. And it's true that published inflation-adjusted wage and income series appear to show substantial stagnation. But if you look at actual quantities consumed it's very hard to see where this stagnation is happening. Compared to 1973 or 1983, we live in bigger houses today. We have more gadgets and more entertainment options. We take more airplane trips. We eat a wider range of foods. We have at least as much clothing. Our cars have improved (as has our coffee). And even in the much-criticized health and education sectors, the fact is that we see improvements, not declines. There are illnesses we can treat or cure in 2013 that were untreatable three or four decades ago, and despite the massive increase in tuition prices, we're earning more college degrees, not fewer.

Advertisement

It's certainly possible that real growth in living standards from 1973–2013 has been slower than it was in 1933–1973 (at least for those people who managed not to get killed in war), but if you step back for a minute from the CPI figures it's very difficult to locate the stagnation. We've increased our consumption of goods and services, men work fewer hours per year than they used to, and women have more career opportunities. There are a lot of problems, but the trajectory is positive even in the "technological frontier" countries.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?