NYT columnist: Improving skills is key to boosting incomes

New York Times columnist David Brooks packs insight and analysis into this tightly reasoned column arguing that education trumps redistribution as the key to expanding opportunity and boosting individual incomes. Read the whole thing, but here are a few takeaways.

On an individual level, getting more skills is the single best thing you can do to improve wages. The economic rewards to education are at historic highs. Americans with a four-year college degree make 98 percent more per hour than people without one. The median college-educated worker will make half-a-million dollars more than a high-school-educated worker over a career after accounting for college costs. 

The rewards are substantial.

If we could magically confiscate and redistribute the above-average income gains that have gone to the top 1 percent since 1979, that would produce $7,000 more per household per year for the bottom 99 percent. But if we could close the gap so that high-school-educated people had the skills of college-educated people, that would increase household income by $28,000 per year.


Those who get more skills earn more money. Today’s economy has challenges, but the traditional rules still apply. Increasing worker productivity is the key. Increasing incentives to risk and invest is essential.

Opportunity Washington: Priorities for Shared Prosperity goes into more detail in our research plan, pointing out:

In 2012, median annual earnings for a full-time worker with a bachelor’s degree were nearly 60 percent higher than those of a worker with only a high school diploma.

There are plenty of opportunities awaiting skilled workers here.

By 2020, estimates are that 70 percent of jobs in Washington will require some form of postsecondary education (compared to 65 percent nationally).

Brooks is right. Policymakers must maintain the proper focus: expand educational opportunity. The redistributionist arguments won’t work.