The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2020

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JUNE 2020 Issue
Field Notes

Higher Education and the Remaking of the Working Class

Economic crises, like the one precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, bring to the fore deep structural problems, some of which were barely perceptible until that point. This is notably true for higher education, whose function in society has shifted dramatically in recent decades. During its heyday following World War II, a college education was a means to lift parts of the working class into a newly-defined middle class, no longer based on the occupations of the past but instead conceived in terms of education, home ownership, well-paid employment, and household consumption. The traditional middle class of small business owners, independent craftspeople, and highly credentialed professionals morphed into the upper echelons of this new middle class or, in some cases, into the lower echelons of the bourgeoisie.

Since the 1970s, however, higher education has also produced the underemployed, that is, graduates of baccalaureate institutions who find themselves in positions for which a four-year degree is not required. By 1990, one-third of college graduates failed to secure jobs traditionally considered commensurate with their education.1 For them, a college degree became a means to acquire working-class employment, primarily in the services and the middle and lower echelons of supervisory, managerial, and professional occupations. Their credentials factored into the competitive process whereby college graduates outcompeted the less educated. This process dramatically altered the social mobility pathways that had been established during the previous few decades. With the current crisis, the split between the underemployed and the upwardly mobile will shift even further.

Higher education has become a huge sorting mechanism. At the upper end, college students from wealthier households and with college-educated parents attend elite and top-tier schools that by-and-large guarantee them access to graduate and professional programs, and to high-paying and educationally rigorous employment. “Top tier” institutions, for example, draw 70 percent of their students from families in the upper income quartile.2 For the underemployed, on the other hand, a college education represented a chance for upward mobility. That the growth in underemployment also coincides with the racial and ethnic diversification of the collegiate student body is one of the great ironies of the last half century.

The ramifications of this situation on life in the United States have been profound. Education has also been a missing element in analyses that focus on deindustrialization and neoliberalism, analyses that assume direct parallels between political decision-making and economic activity, whereas education has been both a mediator of these processes and, in addition, a prime instigator in its own right of the changes that have beset the population. It has been a key mechanism through which social classes have been reshuffled. This portends to the future of higher education as well.

Enrollment Growth and Diversity

At all points during the post-World War II era, higher education expanded far more rapidly than the population at large. Between the war’s end and 1970, population grew by just under half. College enrollments, however, quadrupled. By 1970, one-third of all 18–24 year-olds were taking college classes.3 This period, of course, was the heyday of Keynesian economics, when government stimulation of the economy seemed limitless, a matter of fine-tuning the proportion of public to private financing and calibrating the timing devices for the varied fiscal and monetary stimuli at the government’s disposal.

Education was a preferred venue for government spending, if only because it did not compete directly in areas of interest to privately-owned capital.4 Education also served as an arena for job creation, more so than other favored areas of public intervention such as infrastructure creation and armaments production.5 As government spending expanded exponentially in the post-war period, higher education was a logical recipient.

The spending itself was a haphazard affair. Some educational enhancements were funded by the federal government, especially programs that provided support to students directly. The GI Bill of 1944 and student loan programs that became especially prominent from the 1970s on are perhaps the most well-known examples. Other educational enhancements were funded by the individual states, sometimes by means of publicly financed loans (bonds) for infrastructural development and tax levies in order to hire additional teachers.

The for-profit sector of education that had existed extensively in professional fields like medicine, law, and engineering had largely gone bankrupt by the early decades of the 20th century or had been merged into public and nonprofit entities. The public sector succeeded where the private sector had failed because it operated with a looser set of financial constraints. During the interwar period too, limited numbers of working class students had begun to find entrée into urban-based public institutions, while the private, non-profit sector catered to the elite and had neither the capacity nor the desire to absorb lower-class students.

The post-war period is characterized by a large-scale incorporation of working-class students into the university system. In effect, parts of the working class were invited, by means of the educational system, to join a newly-redefined middle class, now conceived of in terms of education, homeownership, personal and household consumption, and steady year-round, benefits-bearing employment. People were encouraged to pick and choose their social identity from among the many characteristics that until then had been the provenance of the traditional middle classes but which had become widely available to the working class.

This occurrence, so unexpected and unprecedented, not only transformed popular and scholarly conceptions of class and social mobility but also produced an ideology of progress so strong that it continues to shape educational programs and priorities today. It remains an ideology from which neither the population at large nor policy makers and educators have been weaned. The years between 1945 to 1970 cemented the equation of advanced education with upward mobility.

Between 1970 and 2010, when enrollments peaked, college attendance continued to far outstrip population growth, at not quite triple the rate.6 What was new was the demographics of that growth. Besides the ongoing incorporation of white students from working-class backgrounds, new entrants were solicited, beginning in the 1970s with students of color, primarily from groups largely excluded previously, especially African-American and Latinx students. Beginning in the 1990s, immigrants and the children of recent immigrants joined these other new groups.7

All the major constituencies, whites included, experienced huge increases in college attendance. This was a dramatic change from the past, a change that transformed collegiate institutions and enshrined multiculturalism as a reigning doctrine. The integration of higher education has been one of its crowning achievements and made it a trendsetter for the rest of society. Other areas, such as housing, primary and secondary schooling, and employment, continue to be heavily segregated.

Because previously underrepresented groups have been admitted at such high rates, the overall demographics of higher education altered substantially. Whites comprised 84.3 percent of the nation’s student body in 1976 (when ethnic/race data was first compiled for college students), by 2010 their proportion had declined to 62.6 percent. Keep in mind, though, that the number of White college students had nonetheless increased by 3.64 million between these two dates. The relative decline accompanied an absolute increase. And even though both White and Black college enrollment has declined since 2010 (by over two million for White students and one-half million for Blacks), colleges and universities in the United States remain among the most multicultural anywhere in the world.8 For many urban-based public institutions, a situation now prevails in which there are no majorities among the student body.

If higher education expanded more-or-less nonstop from the late 1940s until 2010, the economic rationale behind the growth altered dramatically around 1970 with the onset of the global crisis. Prior to then, both the economy in general and government spending in particular grew rapidly, with the latter funding the development of the educational sector. Since 1970, however, government spending has continued to expand, not so much by growing internally in terms of new employees and administrative bureaus but by directly sponsoring the business sector through the privatization of services, direct subsidies, and other such mechanisms.

As educational budgets stagnated in the post-1970 era, public education was partially privatized by means of tuition hikes and the proliferation of student loan programs. Enrollment growth became a means to counteract declining government subsidies. This was an issue of self-survival for higher education. The previously close coordination with the needs of business and government frayed.

In this sense, the continuing expansion of higher education can be understood as a moment in the unraveling of the capitalist world. That world was already pulling apart before the pandemic brought these tensions to light. Enrollment growth, so necessary because of the retreat of government funding, also produced the underemployed, which in turn undercut higher education’s goal of elevating the workforce. The solution to one problem only exacerbated problems in other areas.


So far we have focused on “inputs” into the collegiate system, that is, the changing patterns of admittance and attendance, themselves representing a vast transformation in practices. But if the input aspect of higher education has been hugely successful, the same cannot be said for its aftermath. This is a realm in which the available data are relatively meager: Except for a few graduate professional areas such as medicine, nursing, law, and engineering, little information is collected directly by higher education institutions about the employment fate of their graduates. The best and most widely accepted information stems from economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who have gathered both aggregate (national) job information on college graduates and data sorted by college major.9

For the last many decades, one-third of all college graduates from four-year institutions wound up in jobs that did not require a baccalaureate degree. For recent college graduates, the figure hovers just above 40 percent, but then gradually declines to a steady-state of one-third. Underemployment has been a component of the collegiate scene throughout the post-war period, although the nature of the underemployment shifted dramatically around 1970, about the same time as when higher education began to supplement socio-economic diversity with racial and ethnic diversity as well.

The pioneering work on this issue was done by Richard Freeman, whose The Overeducated American (1976) nonetheless lumped together two types of underemployment.10 In the first, considerable time was needed to absorb the initial waves of new graduates during the 1950s and 1960s. Even though managerial and professional jobs far outnumbered college graduates, employers tended to prefer experience over credentials regarding existing positions. The evolution of the workforce was a slow-moving affair wherever job openings depended on retirements and turnover.

The expansion and transformation of business enterprise in the post-war era, however, altered this dynamic. The massive outpouring of commodities for which this era is known included an extensive build-out of corporate functions to handle the increasingly complex nature of manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. White-collar work expanded accordingly (twice as fast as either population growth or the increase in the civilian workforce).11 And government expansion itself required new layers of educated employees to handle the increasingly intricate world of government expenditures and regulation.

Underemployed college graduates, who Freeman reckoned at nearly one-fifth of all graduates towards the end of the 1950s, became motivating factors in the widespread re-credentialing of the workforce then taking place, a process that took some four decades to complete. As a college education emerged as a prerequisite for administrative employment, current incumbents returned to school as a hedge against the future. Enrollment in the evening divisions of many collegiate institutions surged. The eventual decline in evening enrollments, experienced nationally, marked the point at which a baccalaureate degree had become synonymous with professional, managerial, and administrative employment throughout all levels and aspects of the economy.

In 1940, to illustrate this point further, a high school diploma had represented an advanced degree, and only a third of all individuals aged 25–34 had one. By 1970, about the same percentage of this age cohort now had instead a bachelor’s degree or more. The recredentialing of the workforce was especially obvious in cutting-edge and high-paid industries. These tended to be clustered in industries that took advantage of recent enhancements in infrastructural areas. In the distant past, it had been the steam engine, later on the railroad. In the 1940s, it was electricity; more recently, the internet, in which degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and graduate degrees are especially in demand. These new and dynamic sectors also tended to be capital-intensive. Newer and older technologies were divided by educational level. In the 1940s, high-tech industries often counted over 40 percent of their employees with high school diplomas, whereas the corresponding figure in labor-intensive fields hovered around 20 percent.12

Something very different occurred in the 1970s. For one, there were no special technological or infrastructural breakthroughs which then transformed one economic sector after another. Instead, economic crisis was the watchword. The era of deindustrialization and neoliberalism had begun. Richard Freeman described the fate of college graduates: “recipients of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in most fields accepted salaries in the early 1970s…at real rates of pay far below those of their predecessors—and often in jobs quite divorced from their field of study and well below their levels of aspiration.”13

Growth in underemployment since that time accompanied the growth in enrollments and the diversification of the student body. Enrollments increased by more than half between 1990 and 2010, from 13.8 to 21 million students. Throughout these years, underemployment for recent college graduates, that is, graduates of four-year institutions between the ages of 22–27 (and within five years of receiving their diploma), hovered around 40 percent. As of December 2019, 41.0 percent were underemployed. For all graduates between the ages of 22–65, the rate was 33.8 percent, consistent with the degree of underemployment throughout the last few decades.14

Consciousness and Identity

Capitalism always functions at cross purposes, in this case when the lofty social goals of the academy clash with the ever-present economic restraints. For some students, a college degree constitutes a means to maintain their status in the middle and upper classes; for others, it is a means to enter those same levels of society. For the underemployed, however, the degree enhances their competitiveness in regard to traditionally working-class employment. At one and the same time, educational credentials for the population at large are upscaled, even though portions of the newly-defined middle class, often the very same people, are either pushed into the working class or prevented from ever getting there.

If the distinction between the middle class, as defined by education, and the working class, as defined by occupation, is evaporating, income data provides examples. The Federal Reserve economists, for instance, have plotted the wage-fates of the collegiate underemployed, whose condition has deteriorated demonstrably since the turn of this century. Less than half have what are termed “good non-college jobs,” that is “a full-time average annual wage of roughly $45,000 or more.”15 A research team at the College Board used census data to determine that 18 percent of bachelor’s degree holders earned less than $40,000 per year and that among those with graduate degrees, it was 8 percent. These figures covered full-time year-round workers aged 35 to 44, considered by many analysts to be among the prime earning years.16

Underemployed college graduates took positions that otherwise would be occupied by non-graduates. The college degree has become the means to acquire such employment. Many employers prefer the higher level of credentials, even when they need to pay extra. In some areas, the pay differential is quite steep. For the 22 percent of male retail salespersons with a bachelor’s degree, average earnings equal $35,000 (2014). For their counterparts with only some college or a two-year associate degree, the average earnings were $20,000. For the 21 percent of female secretaries and administrative assistants with a bachelor’s degree, average compensation equaled $32,000, whereas their lesser educated counterparts earned $30,000, only a $2,000 difference.17

The intense economic pressure under which the traditional working class suffers is partly a result of competition with the collegiate underemployed, just as the collegiate underemployed suffer because of the lack of positions for which they have been prepared. These mutually-enforcing dynamics have helped transform a substantial section of the working class into the working poor. Meanwhile, portions of the middle class are funneled post-graduation into a fate they had hoped to escape. All this takes place regardless of whether the economy has sunk into a great recession, as in 2007–08, or when it experiences historically low rates of unemployment, as in recent years. In both cases, collegiate-level underemployment helps account for the long-term wage stagnation that encompasses some 80 percent of the employed.

The middle class, of course, is part of the working population, no matter how it perceives its own standing in society. The post-war habit of viewing class in terms of consumption and lifestyle (white-collar occupations, home ownership, personal possessions, etc.) no longer makes as much sense as it once did; instead, an image emerges of a huge working population riven by differences in income, education, places of residence, political affiliations, race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and more.18 A highly-educated workforce exists at all levels of the income and occupation continuum, notwithstanding recent depictions of the working class as a spiteful, downwardly-mobile throng draped in ponytails, Harley-Davidson jackets, and teased blond hair that votes for not-so-secret admirers of the alt-right. To educate the working class is also to reconfigure how it thinks and acts.

Among all 25–49 year-olds nationwide, slightly over one-third possess a bachelor’s degree. If we add holders of two-year associate degrees and those who have attended college (but without attaining a degree), we are then speaking about the majority of the entire adult population.19 Apropos this reshaping of the working class, union membership reflects the same upward drift in terms of educational background. More union members have completed a four-year degree or higher than members with only a high school diploma, a disparity already present a decade ago. Add union members with an associate degree or some college experience and we again find a two-to-one margin in favor of advanced education.20 Public school teachers are a prominent example.

Class consciousness has altered accordingly. In the immediate post-World War II era, new ideologies of class pushed aside pre-existing identities and scholarly understandings. Part of this was due to the unrelenting onslaught of commentary that hailed the disappearance of the working class, when not the disappearance of social classes altogether. These ideas possessed a certain common sense realism, given the rapid growth of the economy and the great proliferation of consumer goods (appliances, automobiles, clothing, and much more), white-collar employment, and suburbanization. A modern middle class had emerged.

The expansion of higher education also played its part. For the first time, working-class children were headed to college in massive numbers. For this to happen, working-class parents raised their children’s educational expectations beyond their own levels of achievement. In other words, working-class parents raised their children to be middle class. One means to reduce class-based dissonance within these families was for parents to assume the future class identity of their children or else simply avoid such discussions altogether, that is, parents refashioned themselves in order to prepare their children for college.

Except in academic discourse, class ceased to be an analytic category. The scholarly and popular acceptance of the modern middle class as the new normal of social life in the United States in any case made such discussions unnecessary. In turn, the retreat of class identity made possible new explorations of self that became known under the rubric of identity politics.

The dissonance over class identity mitigated some of the disruption and protest that might have emerged more forcefully in the wake of deindustrialization. While one generation experienced the closing of the old order with the abandonment of functioning factories and their relocation to other areas of the United States and the globe, the next generation continued to enroll in college in unprecedented numbers. From one age cohort to the next, advanced education replaced unionization; older workers in particular were displaced, while children and grandchildren attended college at ever-greater rates. This process was evident in most every family nationwide and is in keeping with the overall dynamism that characterizes the capitalist system. Each generation confronts a newly altered economic and social order. Class is never static.

Once upon a time, occupational skills and unionization were associated with relatively stable, well-paid, and benefit-bearing employment, so much so that social scientists spoke in terms of a “labor aristocracy.” During the last half of the 20th century, education replaced union membership in this equation. This transformation led some analysts to identify education as the primary marker of class, a definition that nonetheless disproportionately simplified the many complicated determinants that define an individual’s social status.21

Deindustrialization and College Graduates

The underemployed remain trapped by the job market, with few attractive options available. Unable to secure positions for which their degrees qualify them, they are also excluded from wide swaths of the remaining workforce. Simultaneous with the growth of higher education during the past 50 years came the great expansion of government-issued occupational licenses, a situation which now covers nearly one-third of all jobs nationally (estimated at around 10 percent in 1970).22 Some licenses are well-known, especially those that require a graduate education. Medical doctors and lawyers are prime examples. Other licenses are based on undergraduate degrees, such as those granted to schoolteachers.

The great bulk of occupational training, however, takes place at two-year community colleges and for-profit institutes.23 Students earn certificates in their chosen fields of study, certificates which are required by the licensing authorities. A wide range of occupations are governed by these procedures. Employment as bookkeeping and payroll clerks, preschool aides, computer-aided technologists, paralegals, addiction counselors, restaurant workers, environmental technicians, medical assistants, personal trainers, plumbers, and hundreds of other fields, all presuppose special qualifications that have been certified and licensed.24

Between 1970 and 2010, the two-year community colleges expanded enrollment twice as quickly as the four-year colleges. Intended specifically to retrain the workforce, they became key factors in the deindustrialization of the United States. Higher education in general took some of the sting out of the layoffs and plant closings that transformed the nature of manufacturing. While the upper and middle echelons of the work world were recredentialed by means of the baccalaureate degree, other sectors began to require government-issued licenses as a condition of employment. Either way, a measure of exclusivity was added to occupations that previously had allowed for easier entry. Where unions had been a means to higher wages and stable employment, a college education and occupational licenses were the means to replicate similar conditions.

Deindustrialization in any case was a bit of a misnomer in terms of the processes at work during the last decades of the twentieth century. That era might better be termed a process of re-industrialization: a rapid turnover of jobs, manufacturing plants moved to other regions or countries, the shift from metals production to plastics and electronics, and the physical alteration of industrial architecture that made factories, warehouses, distribution centers, and big bloc retail establishments indistinguishable from the outside, altered dramatically the types of work required by the new economy. While lower-level manufacturing and service jobs were further deskilled, other jobs were upscaled and identified by education, from which emerged a bifurcated service and knowledge-based sector. In this new situation, higher education partially replaced the need for workplace organizations like unions.

The industrial workforce was still larger in 2000 than at any point between 1945 and 1965, considered to be the peak decades of industrial production. The wholesale diminution of the industrial workforce did not set in until the first decade of the current century, a time when most commentators assumed that the process was already complete.25 That huge portions of the service sector were converted into profit-making (and surplus-value creating) enterprises also shaped this conversion.26 The industrial working class was deindustrialized, but what took its place was a service-oriented proletariat, of which the underemployed college graduates are a significant piece. Part of the working class confronts the economic pressures that accompanied deindustrialization—the transition to low-wage service jobs and its new status as the working poor. Another part embodies all the upwardly mobile aspirations of the middle class, even though its employment does not match its educational expectations.

For underemployed college graduates, the licensed professions remain out-of-bounds without further education and training, additional expense and time removed from the workforce, and in many cases, lowered expectations about the future. Whereas college attendance is motivated by the promise of enhanced opportunities, graduation presents a world greatly restricted in its options.


In its efforts to elevate the population and alleviate hardships associated with low-paid and low-skilled employment, higher education inadvertently contributed to the further segmentation and stratification of that same workforce. The negative effects of underemployment ricochet down and put additional pressure on those parts of the workforce excluded by virtue of their education from college-based work. Even before the economic crisis precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the working class existed in conditions of extreme exigency. To cite a recent analysis: “more than 53 million people—44% of all workers aged 18-64—are low-wage workers…. They earn median hourly wages of $10.22 and median annual earnings of $17,950.” This was counterpoised to the 69 million “mid- to high-waged workers” with median hourly wages of $26.65 and median annual earnings of $54,410.27 This split in the workforce between sustainable and non-sustainable incomes had motivated college enrollment at all levels of the higher education spectrum; yet now, graduates are subject to these same pressures even more.

College enrollments have been on the decline for the last decade, a reversal of the trends that set in after World War II. Access to advanced education—one of the key justifications for the educational system—is narrowing, a result of the societal-wide trends that the crisis accelerates. Declining governmental support for education, another long-term trend, forces publicly-financed institutions to privatize their operations by means of tuition hikes and other cost-reducing and revenue-enhancing measures, like contracting services to low-wage firms.

Given sufficient space to evolve, capitalism destroys the sources of its own success and prosperity. From the late 1800s through the mid-20th century, agrarian labor—farmers and hired hands alike—was eliminated from the workforce, so great were the productivity enhancements that overtook agricultural production. Fewer individuals were needed to produce an ever-greater quantity of food stuffs. The subsequent 75 years saw the decline of the industrial working class. Initially during the latter part of the 20th century, this was a relative decline. Manufacturing employment remained more-or-less flat, even though other sectors of society, including government, white-collar employment, and the service sectors expanded rapidly. Since the turn of the current century, however, the industrial working class in the United States has declined in absolute numbers by one-quarter.

Higher education in the post-World War II period expanded alongside the expansion of the government and service sectors. All of these are under intense pressure today. If predictions about big data, artificial intelligence, and robotics come true, even if only in part, the service sector is next for downsizing. This process, by which “intelligent” machines replace less efficient human beings, is motivated by the unending pressure to maintain economic viability, but it also transforms the educational world as well. Underemployed college students have been among the first casualties of these long-term changes. It is a fate that awaits large swaths of the population. Capitalism has produced more skill and intelligence than it can use. The pandemic makes this easy to see.

  1. Jaison R. Abel, Richard Deitz, and Yaquin Su, “Are Recent College Graduates Finding Good Jobs?” Current Issues in Economics and Finance20, no. 1 (2014): 3-4.
  2. Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl, “How Increasing College Access Is Increasing Inequality, and What to Do about It,” in Rewarding Strivers: Helping Low-Income Students Succeed in College, ed. Richard D. Kahlenberg (New York: Century Foundation Press, 2010), 137.
  3. US Census Bureau, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970: A3, 6, H700, 706,
  4. Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes: The Limits of the Mixed Economy (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1969).
  5. Public school teachers, especially on the local level, continue to constitute one of the largest groups of government employees. US Census Bureau, Historical Statistics of the United States: D 139–41.
  6. From 1970–2010, population increased from 203.2 to 308.7 million; collegiate enrollments from 8.6 to 21 million. Between 2000 and 2018, population grew by 10 percent, collegiate enrollments by 37 percent. US Decennial Census, 1940-2018; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics 2019, 303.10,
  7. US Department of Education (2019): 306.10.
  8. US Department of Education (2019): 306.10.
  9. Abel, Dietz, and Su, ibid., 6-7; Federal Reserve Bank of New York, “The Labor Market for Recent College Graduates: Underemployment Rates for College Graduates February 12, 2020,; Federal Reserve Bank of New York, “The Labor Market for Recent College Graduates: Labor Market Outcomes of College Graduates by Major” February 6, 2019,
  10. Richard Freeman, The Overeducated American (New York: Academic Press, 1976).
  11. US Census Bureau, Historical Statistics of the United States: D182-3.
  12. Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, The Race Between Education and Technology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 102-113.
  13. Freeman, ibid., 4.
  14. This data is updated quarterly. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, ibid.
  15. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, ibid.
  16. Jennifer Ma, Matea Pender, and Meredith Welch, “Education Pays 2016: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society,” College Board, 20,; Stephen Rose, “Mismatch: How Many Workers with a Bachelor’s Degree Are Overqualified for Their Jobs?” Urban Institute, February 2017, Appendix A: Table A.1, 26,
  17. Rose, “Mismatch” ibid.
  18. Although focusing specifically on “the division of social labor,” for Marx “this class articulation does not emerge in pure form,” since “middle and transitional levels always conceal the boundaries” within which there is an “infinite fragmentation of interests and positions.” Karl Marx, Capital: Volume 3 (New York: Vintage, 1981), 1025–1026.
  19. Ma, Pender, and Welch, ibid., 14.
  20. By the mid-1990s, the majority of union members had attended some amount of college; Gerald Mayer, “Union Membership Trends in the United States,” Congressional Research Service, 2004: Table A6,; John Schmitt and Kris Warner, “The Changing Face of U.S. Labor, 1983-2008,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2009: Table 1,
  21. For instance: “in the post-1975 hourglass economy, I would claim, education, not occupation, is the best indicator of class position.” Andrew J. Cherlin, Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2014), 127.
  22. Because occupational licenses are issued by each of the 50 states, no central database exists. Generally accepted estimates range from one-quarter to one-third of all employees.
  23. U.S. Department of Education, ibid., 20198: 318.40; Sandy Baum, Jennifer Ma, and Kathleen Payea, “Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society,” College Board, 39,; Morris M. Kleiner, “Occupational Licensing: Protecting the Public Interest or Protectionism?” Unjohn Institute Policy Papers 2011 no. 09, 1,
  24. “Certifications are issued by a non-governmental body, but licenses are awarded by a government agency and convey a legal authority to work in an occupation.” US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016 Data on Certifications and Licenses, Also, Tamar Jacoby, ‘The Certification Revolution’, in Education for Upward Mobility, ed. Michael J. Petrilli, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 55.
  25. US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020), Manufacturing,
  26. “The cooks and waiters in a public hotel are productive laborers, insofar as their labor is transformed into capital for the proprietor of the hotel. These same persons are unproductive laborers as menial servants, inasmuch as I do not make capital out of the services, but spend revenue on them. In fact, however, these same persons are also for me, the consumer, unproductive laborers in the hotel.” Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value: Part I (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), 159.
  27. “Fourteen percent of low-wage workers have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 44% among mid/high-wage workers, and nearly half (49%) have a high school diploma or less, compared to 25% among mid/high-wage workers.” Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman, “Meet the Low-Wage Workforce,” Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings (2019), 11,


Gary Roth

Gary Roth is the author of The Educated Underclass: Students and the Promise of Social Mobility (Pluto Press, 2019), and Marxism in a Lost Century: A Biography of Paul Mattick (Brill/Haymarket, 2015).


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