Increasing education: What it will and will not do...

Authored by Brad Hershbein, Melissa S. Kearney of Brookings Institution and Lawrence H.Summers of Harvard University

Mainstream labor economists as well as several public commentators have argued that trends in the economy over recent decades—including technological developments, globalization, and trade, among others—have weakened the relative earnings power of those with lower levels of skills, especially those without a college degree. In recent decades, the earnings of those with a college degree or more have risen steadily, while the wages of those with lower levels of education have stagnated or fallen. Furthermore, lifetime earnings of workers with a college degree are nearly twice as high as those without one, a point made by a number of previous Hamilton Project analyses, including one fromthis past year.[1]

This line of reasoning leads to the view that to further the goal of widespread economic prosperity, it will be imperative to increase the skill level of many in the population, a position that a subset of us (Hershbein and Kearney) took in a recent Hamilton Project framing paper. Other commentators have objected that education is not the answer to the nation’s inequality challenge. Following up on remarks made at a recent Hamilton Project event, one of us (Summers) noted in a Washington Post interview that “to suggest that improving education is the solution to inequality is, I think, an evasion.” In this essay we clarify the different elements of the public debate and note explicitly that these positions are not necessarily at odds. Read More...