Today the New York Times has an article titled, "Harder for Americans to Rise from Economy's Lower Rungs" Jan 5, 2012, p. A1.
"Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe. The mobility gap has been widely discussed in academic circles, but a sour season of mass unemployment and street protests has moved the discussion toward center stage...
...Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, according to research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths..."
Majia here: Dean Baker argues that growing, entrenched inequality is not a "natural" or inadvertent outcome of inevitable market forces, but rather is a direct result of deliberate government and corporate policies. He has made his argument available for free in this pdf
My personal observations support the argument made here that class mobility is collapsing.
I teach at a campus that has many working class and lower-middle class students. These students tend to work their way through school in service sector jobs; for instance, they work at call centers and as restaurant servers.
Tuition alone now costs about $8,000 a year, although my university provides low-income students with tuition discounts.
So, the typical student might graduate with 20k to 30k in student loans (some much more and some not at all), while working part or full time through school.
The problem is that when they graduate they find it very, very difficult to gain employment outside of the same service sector jobs they occupied while in school.
Occasionally some find jobs working for the state at salaries of 20k to 30k, but the vast majority of students I have contact with remain in their retail sales, restaurant, and call-center jobs.
They are happy to have a degree, but now are burdened with debt.
They make enough to survive, but they cannot achieve the savings to buy a home, prepare for emergencies, or even save for retirement. They live pay-check to pay-check with few prospects for any upward advancement.
The problem is not lack of education. The problem is not even that they lack vocational socialization or the specific skills required for the workplace.
The problem is that automation, globalization, and population growth have conspired with a ruthless, predatory ethos to denude the country of opportunity.
Thus, most of my students are working on the outer edge of a deflating service economy with no substantive, productive core to halt the ongoing deflation.
The productive core of our economy is largely gone, outside of IT (which produces most of its products abroad and has to import many of its highly speicalized tech workers from India and China--and increasingly exports specialized work to those nations).
Health care for an aging population does employ many people, but the vast majority of positions are relatively low-payed service jobs (e.g., aides):
There is much that needs to be done in this country. Our infrastructures are crumbling and our energy and food systems are based on failing, non-sustainable models.
We could employ our population in a grand project aimed at revitalizing our infrastructures and re-inventing our energy systems around solar, wind, tidal, etc.
It would take massive government expenditures, but in the end it would re-invigorate a collapsing, hollowed-out economy and country...
If we can dedicate trillions to bailing out the banks, then we can dedicate trillions to re-building and re-inventing our infrastructures.
If we can dedicate trillions to our war machine, then we can dedicate trillions to re-invigorating our nation. http://majiasblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/war-dollars-76-trillion.html
A re-invigorated economy would also allow for the amped-up military-industrial complex to be scaled down without collapsing the economy. The drums of war would not beat so often nor so persuasively were the war-economy replaced with a productive one.
Unfortunately, we choose to walk on the dark side toward our destruction because of the greed of our decision makers and the ignorance and apathy of our population (and in that respect higher education has failed utterly).