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Editorial: Education still best path to earnings

Everyone knows that America suffers a painful gap between the elite 1 percent — billionaires who get ever-bigger shares of the nation’s wealth — and the rest of the U.S. populace.

That glaring fact was underscored last week when an Associated Press study found that major public corporation CEOs in America averaged more than $10 million each in 2013 for the first time. Nabors Industries boss Anthony Petrello got $68.3 million, CBS chief Leslie Moonves pocketed $65.6 million, Richard Adkerson of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold got $55.3 million, etc.

But now researchers are spotlighting a second, different type of inequality: the worsening gulf between Americans with college education and those with only high school diplomas.

In the May 23 issue of Science magazine, economist David Autor of Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote that, over the past two decades, there has been a “steep, persistent rise of earnings inequality in the U.S. labor market and in developed countries more broadly” — “the dramatic growth in the wage premium associated with higher education and, more broadly, cognitive ability.”

Brighter, better-educated Americans earn lucrative middle-class incomes in the new “Information Age,” enabling them to support secure families and educate their children — while millions of “middle Americans” with only high school diplomas fall into harder times. Marriage and family stability are declining for the latter mainstream segment.

Knowledge jobs are best-paid in the growing high-tech economy. People with just high school education often can’t qualify. Their earning power is eroding. Dr. Autor blames their plight on several factors, saying:

“The decades-long decline in the real value of the U.S. minimum wage, the sharp drops in non-college employment opportunities in production, clerical and administrative support positions stemming from automation, the steep rise in international competition from the developing world, the declining membership and bargaining power of U.S. labor unions, and the successive enactment of multiple reductions in top federal marginal tax rates, have all served to magnify inequality and erode real wages among less-educated workers.”

This report is disturbing for West Virginia, which has America’s lowest college rate. For example, a U.S. Census Bureau report says that, in 2007, more than 27 percent of U.S. adults held bachelor degrees or higher — but only 17 percent of West Virginians did, the nation’s worst level.

The clear message here is that West Virginia families should push their children to attain the highest education credentials possible. Continue learning, well into adulthood. It’s the best path to success in the snowballing Information Age.

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