Getting Schooled On Inequality

Leonhardt discusses the role of education in fighting inequality:

The great income gains for the American middle class and poor in the mid-to-late 20th century came after this country made high school universal and turned itself into the most educated nation in the world. As the economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz have written, “The 20th century was the American century because it was the human-capital century.”

Education continues to pay today, despite the scare stories to the contrary. The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else in this country is near its all-time high. The countries that have done a better job increasing their educational attainment, like Canada and Sweden, have also seen bigger broad-based income gains than the United States.

Yet the debate over our schools and colleges tends to exist in a separate political universe from our debate over inequality. Liberals often shy away from making the connection because they worry it holds the struggling middle class and poor responsible for their plight and distracts from income redistribution. Many conservatives fear the implicit government spending involved. And so, our once-large international lead in educational attainment has vanished, and our lead in inequality has grown.