If you continually listen to school reformers in the “accountability” movement — those who believe that standardized test scores are the most important measure of success — then you could be forgiven for really believing that the U.S. economy and the country’s national security are dependent on getting those scores ever higher (because, in this skewed world view, the very flawed tests are seen as a real measure of achievement). You might also think that all of America’s public schools are nothing short of a mess.
The problems with this thinking have been a common theme on this blog, mostly by looking at why it is wrong to imbue standardized tests with more validity than they deserve and to use test scores to make high-stakes decisions about students, teachers and schools. Here is a different way of looking at what is really going on in the economy — and why it’s time to stop blaming the public schools. Here are 13 telling charts about the economy from the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute, which has a mission of broadening the discussion about economic policy to include the interests of low- and middle-income workers.
I publish these charts not to suggest that public education doesn’t need to be improved or that there aren’t many schools in drastic trouble. Of course there are. It does not follow, however, that the performance of public schools as measured by the all-important test scores should be seen as the bellwether for the future of the republic — though we keep hearing this on a regular basis.
From the EPI:
As we say goodbye to 2013, the economy is still failing ordinary workers.
What is being done to make it better? Not enough.
Public spending and public investment are too low, wages for increasingly productive workers are flat or falling, and the minimum wage is inadequate.
However, there is hope for 2014.
The policies that created these trends can be reversed. There is a renewed push to raise the federal minimum wage, states are raising their own minimum wages, and more policymakers are coming to terms with the downside of economic inequality.
EPI’s top charts of 2013 explain why a full economic recovery and policies that ensure broadly shared prosperity should be policymakers’ foremost priorities in 2014.
In November 2013, the labor market had 1.3 million fewer jobs than when the recession began in December 2007. Further, because the potential labor force grows every month, the economy would have had to add 6.6 million jobs just to preserve the labor market health that prevailed in December 2007. Counting jobs lost plus jobs that should have been gained to absorb potential new labor market entrants, the U.S. economy had a jobs shortfall of 7.9 million in November 2013.
“Recession Has Left in Its Wake a Jobs Shortfall of Nearly 8 Million,” an EPI Economic Indicator updated Dec. 6, 2013, on www.stateofworkingamerica.org
“Drop in Employment for ‘Prime-age’ Workers during 2007 Recession Truly Stunning,” an EPI Economic Indicator updated Dec. 6, 2013, on www.stateofworkingamerica.org
“Millions of Potential Workers Sidelined,” an EPI Economic Indicator updated Dec. 6, 2013
The recovery from the Great Recession has been accompanied by the slowest growth of public spending following any recession since World War II. If the current recovery had instead featured public spending growth that mirrored spending growth following the early 1980s recession (one that was similarly as deep, if not as long, as the Great Recession), the economy would be almost fully recovered with more than 7 million additional jobs.
Taking Middle-Out Economics Seriously in This Fall’s Fiscal Debates, an EPI report published Sept. 26, 2013
“Economy Built for Profits, Not Prosperity,” an EPI Economic Snapshot updated Dec. 6, 2013
After shrinking during the recession, the gap between CEO pay and typical worker wages is growing rapidly. The ratio of annual pay received by CEOs of the largest 350 U.S. firms relative to annual wages of production/nonsupervisory workers in those firms’ industries was roughly 20-to-1 in 1965, reached 100-to-1 by 1992, and peaked at 383-to-1 during the stock market bubble of 2000. In 2012, it was 273-to-1.
CEO Pay in 2012 Was Extraordinarily High Relative to Typical Workers and Other High Earners, an EPI report published June 26, 2013
A Decade of Flat Wages: The Key Barrier to Shared Prosperity and a Rising Middle Class, an EPI report published Aug. 21, 2013
The State of Working America, this link broke in the late 1970s for the vast majority of American workers. Productivity measures the average dollar value of economic output produced in an hour of work—essentially measuring the economy’s potential for providing rising living standards for all. But this potential has been unrealized for most American workers. Between 1979 and 2012, productivity rose 63.8 percent, but compensation per hour for production and nonsupervisory workers (who constitute 80 percent of the private-sector workforce) rose only 7.5 percent. As a result, an enormous share of economic output is going to profits and earnings of CEOs and other workers much higher up the wage scale—which is why American inequality has skyrocketed over the past generation.
“Cumulative Change in Total Economy Productivity and Real Hourly Compensation of Production/Nonsupervisory Workers, 1948–2012,” an EPI Economic Indicator updated Sept. 4, 2013
The Class of 2013: Young Graduates Still Face Dim Job Prospects, an EPI report published April 10, 2013
Guestworkers in the High-Skill U.S. Labor Market, an EPI report published April 24, 2013
Every year that the minimum wage is not raised by Congress, its real value is reduced by inflation. This inaction has eroded living standards for low-wage workers. The real value of the minimum wage today, $7.25, is much lower than its height of $9.40 in 1968, despite the 109 percent rise in U.S. productivity since 1968. Today’s minimum wage would be $18.30 if it had grown at the same rate as U.S. productivity.
Raising the Federal Minimum Wage to $10.10 Would Lift Wages for Millions and Provide a Modest Economic Boost, an EPI report published Dec. 19, 2013
Figure 11 in EPI’s Retirement Inequality Chartbook, published Sept. 6, 2013
Figure 26 in EPI’s Retirement Inequality Chartbook, published Sept. 6, 2013