There is a great report out this morning from the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce: Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018. The report documents, in 110-odd pages of detail, recent trends in workforce demand for various different occupational categories, and how much education matters to them, as well as making projections out to 2018. For example, the graph above shows the drastic decline in the fraction of non-college educated workers since the 1970s, and projects that it will continue through 2018. Regular readers of this blog will be unsurprised.
This report is not by a bunch of wild-eyed technology visionaries, but rather by buttoned-down labor economists. That has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, there is massive, solid, well argued detail here - no flights of fancy, just lots and lots of statistics and analysis, and relatively uncontroversial short-term extrapolation. On the other hand, the situation with respect to the Singularity overall is akin to "Is our spaceship headed into the Sun?" A report that says "The spaceship temperature will be three degrees higher next month" is a useful piece of evidence, but somehow misses the main point. I wish they had tackled the "What will it be like in 2050?" question, at least briefly.
For example, if you stare at their Table 1 for a minute or two:
This shows the change in your likely position in the income spectrum based on education. The big story is obviously that in 1970, high school dropouts and graduates were mostly middle income, and now the dropouts are mostly lower income, and the high school graduates are increasingly at risk of that too. And then ask yourself - what will another forty years like the last forty do? I would tend to guess that the great bulk of non-college-educated folks will form an unemployable underclass by then.
The position of the report is that we need to ramp up the amount of secondary education to compensate. And certainly, in the short term that makes a lot of sense. However, in the long term, I think the questions run much deeper. Remember, half the population has IQ below 100. Will all of those folks benefit from a college education? What are we going to do with the rest? What kind of society will we have with a very large unemployable underclass?
A few more highlights that caught my eye. Here is the wage premium associated with using computers in your job, by education:
Clearly, using technology always increases your value, but the more education and skills you have, the bigger a multiplier technology gives you. Thus information technology is a fundamental driver of income inequality.
Next is another chart providing more detail on how education correlates with income:
This next one shows the shift in wages in various occupational categories and education levels between the mid eighties and the mid aughties:
(Here STEM = "Science Technology Engineering Mathematics" - ie people like me). Besides the general shrinkage of real income for uneducated workers, note how in Food and Personal Services, flooded with applicants, wages even for educated workers have shrunk dramatically.
Finally, here is the average real wages for various education categories:
I expect, over time, even a Bachelor's degree won't be enough to protect your income.
Folks face rather a Hobson's choice here: do you work with the technology, and thus enable this overall trend? Or not, and make your chances of success in life that much poorer?