Caste in America (or: hell in a handbasket, yes indeedy)

I don’t spend much time writing about politics any more — my mental health just can’t take it. But, data!
Via 3QuarksDaily: the Office of Management and Budget has a blog, to which director Peter Orszag posted an entry on “The Case for Reform in Education and Health Care“. He describes a talk he gave to the Association of American Universities, and makes his slides available as a pdf. From those slides:
Whether you even start college depends as much on your family’s income as on your ability (insofar as math scores are a decent proxy for such ability). For instance, if you’re an average student (middle third math scores) you are about twice as likely to go to college if your family earned in the highest bracket, relative to your chances if your family earned in the lowest bracket. Similarly, if you’re in one of the two lowest income brackets, you can roughly double your chances of going to college by getting your math score up from middle to highest third.


If you do start college, whether or not you graduate also has a lot to do with family income: almost half of the students from the lowest income background do not finish college, whereas the noncompletion rate drops to less than 25% in the highest family income bracket.


There is a vicious circle in operation: relative to a high school education, a college education returns a premium of over 400%, making you that much more likely to contribute to your children’s success, as shown above. (The ordinate shows the log of the ratio between the return to a college education versus the return to a high school education: 10^0.6 is about 4.)

wage premium.png

The vicious circle encompasses more than just school. If you have money, you’re more likely to be insured and to have more formal education; both factors make you much more likely to take part in routine health screens, which in turn makes you more likely to stay healthy, which in turn keeps your earning potential up, and so on.


gettingahead2.pngIn a similar vein, Ryan Avent adds this figure from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project, which shows that you’re more likely to wind up in the top earning quintile if your parents were in that demographic but you didn’t go to college, than if you did go to college but your parents were in the bottom quintile (click the image at right for a popup or go here):

The rich get richer, the poor get the picture, but Garrett was wrong about one thing: when you’re down so low, that’s right where the bombs are most likely to land. Here’s a little Vonnegut to take us to the news at the top of the hour:

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” […]
Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue… Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.

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